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
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing