Making sense of the Boston bombing suspects: Tamerlan Tsarnaev 'was nothing out of the ordinary, a friendly giant'

Locals struggle to explain the bomber suspects’ motives

Cambridge, Massachusetts

“I don’t have a single American friend” – that is the quote attributed to 26 year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a photo essay profiling him a couple of years ago, which has been transmitted internationally since he was killed in a police shoot-out in the early hours of Friday. The world is trying to make sense of how he and his 19 year-old brother Dzhokhar went from being a pair of ordinary young men to the accused perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings.

But it's second part of the quote – "I don't understand them [Americans]" – that caught the attention of Luis Vasquez, a Cambridge native who was in the same year at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School as the dead suspect. Mr Vasquez also knew the surviving suspect, Dzhokhar, who he'd coached in football, and who now lies seriously injured in hospital.

Immigrants of Chechen origin, the Tsarnaev brothers lived on Cambridge's Norfolk Street, within walking distance of their alma mater, the only public high school in city.

"[The first part of Tamerlan's quote], when you say that around here, nowadays it would be suspicious. But a few years ago it would've been like, yeah, whatever. That's attributed [sic] to how diverse this area is... we have a big international community here," Mr Vasquez told The Independent.

"The alarming part though, and I'm surprised no one spoke up before when he said it, is the second part... where he said, 'I don't understand them'. I'm not sure why someone didn't say anything about that," said Mr Vasquez.

Cambridge is struggling to make sense of their actions, and how no one in the tight-knit community spotted signs that they might have been planning an attack that would kill three people and injure 176. Sitting across the Charles river from downtown Boston, Cambridge is home to Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Over 27 per cent of residents were born in a foreign country, according to the US Census. Alice, who works in a nail shop, knew the younger brother but hadn't seen him for at least year. "He was an average guy," she said.

Like Mr Vasquez, Alice did not recognize the brothers from the FBI images. Mr Vasquez said Dzhokhar "had more of a baby face and he was a little shorter" when he knew him, and Tamerlan, who Mr Vasquez last saw around two years ago, never wore a cap like the one he can be seen sporting in the FBI pictures, nor was he clean-shaven. "It never even crossed my mind [that it was Tamerlan and his brother]..." he said. Like many others in Cambridge who knew the brothers, Mr Vasquez says he never sensed anything that would explain what happened last week.

"[Tamerlan] was always around, keeping a close eye [on his sister, who was in high school with him], that was important to him... People who wanted to be her boyfriend and stuff, they were always intimidated because it was like big brother is always watching. It wasn't like a violent thing. It was just that he held high standards and felt that he was the leader in his family.

"But he was very approachable, he was cool, nothing out of the ordinary. Just a little bit more reserved but he wasn't socially awkward or anything.... Just a big friendly giant, that was it."

Like the brothers' uncle Ruslan Tsarni, Mr Vasquez is glad that Dzhokhar was taken alive and might now be able to supply some answers. "There's now a chance to find out who was behind it, who were the mentors of all of it," Mr Tsarni told CBS.

Mr Vasquez said: "The younger brother I coached... Nothing set him aside, set him apart from the crowd. He was just in the middle of the bunch, he was normal, he had friends."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test