Tamerlan Tsarnaev practiced martial arts and boxing, even aspiring to fight on the U.S. Olympic team. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been on the wrestling team at a prestigious school and won a scholarship from his city to pursue higher education. Neighbors recalled the ethnic Chechen brothers, living on a quiet street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, riding bikes and skateboards.
Two brothers, one now dead, one alive and at large. Hours after the first grainy images of the two men were released to the public by the FBI, a portrait quickly emerged Friday of the men suspected in Monday’s deadly Boston Marathon bombing.
Stunned friends pleaded for the surviving brother, described as bright and outgoing, to turn himself in and not hurt anyone. Classmates of Dzhokhar reported seeing him on his university campus after the attacks. Relatives of the brothers expressed shock, disbelief and anger.
The brothers, who had lived in the violence-wracked region of Dagestan in southern Russia, lived together and had been in the country for about a decade, according to an uncle, Ruslan Tsarni.
Tsami, speaking outside his Maryland home, urged his 19-year-old nephew Dzhokhar to turn himself in and ask for forgiveness. He said he hadn’t seen his nephews for several years, and he said the family is ashamed. “If somebody radicalized them ... it’s not my brother, who just moved back to Russia,” he said.
The older brother, Tamerlan, was believed to be 26 when he was killed overnight in a shootout with police.
An aunt, Maret Tsarnaeva, told reporters in Toronto that Tamerlan recently became a devout Muslim who prayed five times a day, and she doesn’t believe the brothers could have been involved in the bombing.
She said her brother Anzor Tsarnaev was desperate when he found out Tamerlan dropped out of his university.
Tamerlan married and had a 3-year-old daughter in the U.S., she said.
“He has a wife in Boston and from a Christian family, so you can’t tie it to religion,” she said.
Tamerlan once said he hoped to fight for the U.S. Olympic team and become a naturalized American.
“I don’t have a single American friend. I don’t understand them.” he was quoted as saying in a photo package that appeared in a Boston University student magazine in 2010.
Government officials said Tamerlan traveled to Russia last year and returned to the U.S. six months later. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they couldn’t publicly talk about an investigation in progress. One said Tsarnaev traveled out of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Dzhokhar had attended the prestigious Cambridge Rindge and Latin school, participating on the wrestling team. In May 2011, his senior year, he was awarded a $2,500 scholarship from the city to pursue higher education, according to a news release at the time. That scholarship was celebrated with a reception at city hall.
He attended the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, university officials said Friday, as the campus was evacuated. The school would not say what he was studying.
Harry Danso, who lives on the same floor of the dormitory, told The Associated Press he saw him in the hallway this week, and Tsarnaev was calm.
The father of the suspects, Anzor Tsaraev, told The Associated Press his younger son was a second-year student studying medicine.
“My son is a true angel ...,” he said by telephone from the Russian city of Makhachkala. “He is such an intelligent boy. We expected him to come on holidays here.”
He added, “They were set up, they were set up! I saw it on television; they killed my older son Tamerlan.” He ended the call angrily, saying, “Leave me alone, my son’s been killed.”
Dzhokhar’s page on the Russian social networking site Vkontakte says that before moving to the United States he attended School No. 1 in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim republic in Russia’s North Caucasus that has become an epicenter of the Islamic insurgency that spilled over from the region of Chechnya.
On the site, he describes himself as speaking Chechen as well as English and Russian. His world view is described as “Islam” and he says his personal goal is “career and money.”
On Friday, those who knew him were stunned. A host of a Boston-based public radio program, Robin Young, posted on Twitter a photo of her nephew with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, their arms around each other, at their graduation.
“Heartbreaking pic,” Young wrote.
Deana Beaulieu, a 20-year-old student at Bunker Hill Community College who lives two blocks away from the suspects’ home, said she went to school with Dzhokhar and was friendly with his sister. She hadn’t seen him since they graduated.
“He was just a quiet kid,” Beaulieu said of Dzhokhar. She couldn’t recall his ever expressing any political views. “I thought he was going to branch off to college, and now this is what he’s done. ... I don’t understand what the hell happened, what set him off like this.”
Before moving to Dagestan, the Tsarnaev family lived in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia. Leila Alieva, who went to school with Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the Kyrgyz town of Tokmok, remembers an educated family.
“Tamerlan was in the same year, but in a different class,” Alieva said. “He was a very positive boy, a good student, a jock, a boxer.”
She remembered Dzhokhar as a little boy and said the family also had two sisters. She described the family as “very educated, of middle income.” They had relatives in the U.S. and left, she said.
“I can’t believe they were involved in the explosions, because Tamerlan was a very positive guy, and they were not very Islamist,” Alieva said. “They were Muslim but had a secular lifestyle.”
According to the website spotcrime.com, Tamerlan was arrested for domestic violence in July 2009, after assaulting his girlfriend. That report could not be immediately confirmed.
He was an amateur boxer, listed as a competitor in a National Golden Gloves competition in 2009.
“I like the USA,” Tamerlan was quoted as saying in The Sun of Lowell, Massachusetts in 2004. “America has a lot of jobs. That’s something Russia doesn’t have. You have a chance to make money here if you are willing to work.”