Four years ago, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was ready to fight for Team U.S.A. as a boxer. He dreamed of becoming a naturalized American.
Thursday night, police shot the 26-year-old Chechen refugee to death, days after he, and his younger brother Dzhokhar, allegedly set off a pair of bombs not far from the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
The blasts killed three people, wounded 176 others and prompted an unprecedented manhunt in the city of Boston.
Investigators named Tamerlan and his 19-year-old brother as the main suspects in the attack a day after releasing security camera images captured before the deadly explosions. In the hours following, the investigation led police to the MIT campus, in Watertown, where a shootout left one police officer dead and a transit officer in hospital.
Dzhokhar remained at large Friday, as relatives around the world said they’re stunned the brothers may have been involved in the deadly terrorist attack.
“How could this do this, for what? For the sake of what? What beliefs? What prompted them to this?” said aunt Maret Tsarnaev, speaking to reporters outside her Etobicoke apartment. The boys had a “perfect” upbringing, were intelligent and smart, she said.
If it was perfect, it was also tumultuous: Tamerlan was born in Russia, Dzhokhar in Kyrgyzstan, and the family lived in Chechnya until the mid-90s, when the first Chechen war broke out.
The family family fled to Kazahkstan and Kyrgyzstan, and later to Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim state under Russian rule. They came to the U.S. as refugees with their parents and sisters sometime in the early 2000s.
Dzhokhar was a star wrestler at Cambridge Ridge and Latin high school and won a scholarship from the City of Cambridge when he graduated in 2011.
According to CNN he was studying at the University of Massachussetts at Dartmouth and worked at Harvard University as a lifeguard.
Tamerlan took time off from his engineering studies at Boston’s Bunker Hill Community College, to train as a boxer.
He confided his Olympic aspirations to photographer Johannes Hirn in a photo essay titled “Will Box for Passport.”
But he seemed to have mixed feelings about his adopted home.
“I don’t have a single American friend,” he told Hirn. “I don’t understand them.”
Hirn is not commenting on his encounters with Tamerlan Tsarnaev and has removed his photo essay from the web.
Tamerlan fought in the 201-pound weight class at the national Golden Gloves tournament, in Utah, but lost his only fight in the national tournament.
Anzor Tsarnaev, the brothers’ father, spoke with international media from his home, in the Dagestan capital of Makhachkala, and blamed U.S. officials for the death of his eldest son and thinks his children were set up.
“If they kill my second child,” he told ABC News, “I will know that it is an inside job, a hit job.”
“I learned about the incident from TV,” he told Interfax. “My opinion is the special services have framed my children because they are practicing Muslims,” he said.
Dzhokhar’s former high school classmates said they were shocked to hear he may have been involved in an act of terrorism.
He was “grateful” to be in the U.S., said his former high school teacher Larry Aaronson in an interview with the Boston Herald. He said his social studies student had “no anger or rage, or feeling like he was being bullied about being from Chechnya.”
Layla Taremi was two years behind Dzhokhar at Cambridge Ridge and Latin.
“I didn’t even know he was from another country. I just knew him as an American,” she told CBS news. “He was well-liked at our high school, he got good grades…This is absolutely shocking. We would never think Dzhokhar would do this.”
“There were no signs of any kind of malicious behaviour,” Eric Machado told CNN.
But, he’s now wanted by police and his brother is dead.
Hours before Thursday’s bloody firefight in the Boston suburb of Watertown, Tamerlan called his uncle.
They hadn’t spoken in years, Alvi Tsarnaev told Westchester County’s Journal News from his Maryland home.
“He said, ‘I love you and forgive me,’” Tsarnaev said. They made small talk and exchanged family updates.
When the news came Friday morning that one nephew was dead and another at large, Tsaernaev was shocked.
“Killing innocent people, I cannot forgive that,” he said. “It’s crazy. I don’t believe it now, even.”
Ruslan Tsarnaev, another uncle who also lives in Montgomery Village, MD, called the attack “an atrocity.”
“We are devastated. We’re shocked. We’ve not been in touch with that family for a number of years,” he told reporters outside his home.
“Of course we’re ashamed. Yes, we’re ashamed. These are children of my brother, who has little influence over them.”