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."

News
i100
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
British author Howard Jacobson has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
books
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Systems Analyst (Technical, UML, UI)

£30000 - £40000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Cost Reporting-MI Packs-Edinburgh-Bank-£350/day

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Cost Reporting Manager - MI Packs -...

Senior Private Client Solicitor - Gloucestershire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - We are makin...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Support Developer

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A unique and rare opport...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn