NORTH DARTMOUTH, Mass. — With the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings now captured, the next step for authorities is to figure out why Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died early Friday morning, allegedly carried out the bombings.
U.S. Sen. John McCain has said he wants the suspect in custody, Dzhokhar, to be tried as an enemy combatant.
Friends and classmates of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth — which was evacuated for most of Friday as authorities searched for him — say they’re having trouble accepting that he’s suspected of carrying out the marathon bombings and other violence since.
UMass Dartmouth sophomore Florida Addy first heard from a friend Thursday night that her classmate might be the man known as Suspect 2 in the marathon bombings.
“He actually showed us a picture. He was like, ‘Yo, that’s Dzhokhar,’ ” Addy said. “But we took it as a joke. We were like, ‘No, that’s not Dzhokhar.’ But then this morning when we got evacuated and went to the campus center, I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s Dzhokhar.’ I started crying because I’m shocked — it’s my friend.”
A friend she describes as friendly and quiet but also mysterious — in a good way that she said attracted women.
After the 19-year-old Tsarnaev was allegedly involved in a shootout with police in Watertown early Friday morning — which left his 26-year-old brother, also a bombing suspect, dead — UMass Dartmouth cancelled classes for the day. Police then descended on the campus.
“I heard the alarm going off at the building we learned Suspect 2 was living in,” freshman Colin Campbell recounted. “Then we got a text message that said to evacuate campus.”
Campbell and dozens of other students didn’t have cars, so they had to wait by the main entrance for family or friends to pick them up. While they waited, they traded stories of their fellow student and disbelief that he could have planted bombs at the Boston Marathon, as police say.
“It’s scary. It’s completely scary,” said Sonia Ribeiro, a classmate of Tsarnaev.
“Who would have thought that somebody you know, someone that you’re friends with, can be capable of doing something this? So it’s scary because it’s home,” Ribeiro said. “I really liked this kid. He was nice. He was cool. I don’t know. I’m just in shock.”
She and several other students report seeing the young man they know as “Jahar” in dorms and other buildings on campus within the last few days since the marathon attack.
Sophomore Harry Danso said he chatted briefly with Tsarnaev Wednesday.
“He was acting calm. Just like, ‘Oh yeah, you know, regular day,’ ” Danso said. “I didn’t see him after that.”
Sam Wat said he attended school with Tsarnaev at UMass and in high school at Cambridge Rindge and Latin.
“He was the outgoing kid, you know? He was known for his excellence in wrestling and all that,” Wat said. He added that Tsarnaev was well liked among his peers.
In a house off campus, a friend named Mary, who was too nervous to give her last name, said she has nothing but good memories of him — always saying hi, always being with friends.
“He was wicked nice. We would go hang out with him and watch soccer on TV. He was so normal — like had naked girls on his walls on posters. Just an everyday 19-year-old boy,” Mary said.
But if police are correct about Tsarnaev, somewhere things went wrong.
Mary said if she could speak to him, she’d ask him why. She thinks his older brother must have powerfully influenced him.
“I heard that his brother — from people that knew him — that he’s a little crazy, and that’s a little believable. But for him, not so much. And I’m kind of thinking he was persuaded by his brother,” she said.
She knew Tsarnaev was Chechen and spoke the native language. But she said, as others did, that he never talked of anything political or violent.
Mary said she’s struggling to wrap her head around her friend now being an accused terrorist.
Boston Marathon Bombing: Significant Developments:
- Monday, April 15: Bombs at the Marathon finish line kill three and injure hundreds more
- Thursday, April 18: Black hat and white hat: FBI releases photos and video of suspects
- Thursday and Friday, April 18-19: MIT police officer is killed; shootout in Watertown; one suspect dies, other escapes
- Friday, April 19: Manhunt for surviving suspect as Boston area is put on lockdown
- Friday evening, April 19: Lockdown lifted; suspect is located and captured in Watertown
- Monday, April 22: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev charged with using a weapon of mass destruction
- Wednesday, May 1: Three college friends of Dzhokhar accused of disposing of backpack
- More Coverage: Boston Marathon Bombings