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
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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

King's College, Cambridge: Stipendiary Junior Research Fellowships October 2016

£20,000-40,000: King's College, Cambridge: King's College wishes to appoint th...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Back End

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has bec...

Recruitment Genius: Online Lettings Negotiator

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join ...

Guru Careers: Trainer / IT Trainer

£30 to £32k : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Trainer / IT Trainer to join an a...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'