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The Tsarnaev Brothers: What We Know About The Boston Bombing Suspects

With Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in police custody at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and his brother and fellow suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev dead after a shootout, many questions now focus on how these two young men arrived at this point.

Information about the brothers quickly turned from a trickle into a flood after police publicly identified them as suspects just days after Monday's attack. Authorities are now preparing charges that will likely range from federal terrorism charges to a murder case filed by the state of Massachusetts, CNN reports.

You can follow new developments in the story in our main post. Here's a roundup of the latest details being reported about the Tsarnaevs:

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was not yet a teenager when he moved to the United States; reports of his age when he immigrated range from 10 to 11. He is described as a likable, low-key young man who plays soccer and was the captain of his high school wrestling team, earning a $2,500 scholarship. He went to his senior prom — an occasion that also led him to attend a party hosted by WBUR's Robin Young for her nephew, a classmate of Dzhokhar's. In recent years, he became a U.S. citizen.

Despite being thought of as "a smart kid," Dzhokhar was struggling at UMass Dartmouth, receiving several failing grades over three semesters, according to The New York Times. But he evidently succeeded in making friends on campus — the newspaper quotes one of the suspect's classmates as saying that he wouldn't be surprised if Dzhokhar's friends testified on his behalf.

Former classmate Sierra Schwartz tells NPR's Daniel Zwerdling that Dzhokhar was "friendly, quiet — but not in an alarming way, he was just soft-spoken. But very funny, very sweet, very sociable — always had someone to eat lunch with. He never seemed like an outcast, ever."

Students at UMass Dartmouth say they saw the suspect at a party Wednesday night, where they recalled him being "relaxed," reports The Boston Globe.

Boston's WCVB offers a look at his profile on social media:

"Dzhokhar's page on the Russian social networking site Vkontakte says that before moving to the United States, he attended School No. 1 in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, and he describes himself as speaking Chechen as well as English and Russian. His world view is described as 'Islam' and he says his personal goal is 'career and money.' "

Friends and former classmates tell WCVB that they can't recall Dzhokhar expressing any political views.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had apparently gone about his normal routine Wednesday, school officials tell The Globe: "working out at the gym, then sleeping in his single-unit room at the Pine Dale Hall dorm that night, while law enforcement officials were frantically scanning photos and video trying to identify him and his brother."

In a telephone interview, Zaur Tsarnaev, 26, who says he is a cousin of the brothers, tells The Globe that he believes Tamerlan instigated the attack:

"I used to warn Dzhokhar that Tamerlan was up to no good," Zaur says. "[Tamerlan] was always getting in trouble. He was never happy, never cheering, never smiling. He used to strike his girlfriend. ... He was not a nice man."

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was 15 when his family came to the U.S. He went on to become a skilled boxer, representing New England in the Golden Gloves competition in 2009 and 2010. There is much conjecture that he was the instigator of the bombing attack, drawing his younger brother into the plan he is suspected of carrying out.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev practices boxing at the Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts center in April 2009 in Boston. The native Chechnyan was described as a heavyweight fighter at the gym, and allegedly hoped to fight for the U.S.
BARCROFT MEDIA / Barcroft Media via Landov
Barcroft Media via Landov
Tamerlan Tsarnaev practices boxing at the Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts center in April 2009 in Boston. The native Chechnyan was described as a heavyweight fighter at the gym, and allegedly hoped to fight for the U.S.

"I like the USA ... America has a lot of jobs," Tamerlan was quoted as telling The Lowell Sun back in 2004, after another successful bout. "That's something Russia doesn't have. You have a chance to make money here if you are willing to work."

One of Tamerlan's former coaches tells The Sun that he remembers his former pupil as respectful and talented — in addition to his boxing abilities, Tamerlan could also play the piano and violin.

"If you had asked me two days before this happened what kind of person he was, I would say terrific, talented, respectful," John Curran said while observing the lockdown that quieted much of the Boston area's streets Friday.

"Suffice to say, I am shocked beyond belief today."

But other details have emerged about Tamerlan that depict a darker side.

Three women who knew him have told NPR that they saw changes in the young man around 2008 and 2009, when they say he became a more devout Muslim. As NPR's Zwerdling reports, the women say Tamerlan sought to control his girlfriend, ordering her to cover herself and convert to Islam.

In 2009, Tamerlan was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend — an incident that may have also played a role in hampering his efforts to gain U.S. citizenship.

More insights come from a photo essay compiled by Johannes Hirn, who profiled Tamerlan for a college project (in a gallery that has apparently now been removed from the Web).

"I'm very religious," Tamerlan says in one caption, according to Foreign Policy. Saying that he neither drinks alcohol nor smokes, he adds, "There are no values anymore. ... People can't control themselves."

It was as part of that project that Tamerlan stated, "I don't have a single American friend."

Tamerlan attended college in spurts, with numerous reports citing his three semesters of taking classes at Bunker Hill Community College, with an emphasis on accounting. He last attended the school in late 2008. Several reports indicate that he has a wife and child.

Tamerlan left behind an intriguing "wish list" on Amazon that included several books. The list was first found by writer Justin Hart. The items included books on identity fraud, along with Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, as well as several titles with Chechen connections, including a dictionary and phrasebook.

The Tsarnaev family has taken part in several interviews in the U.S. and Russia, with relatives expressing a range of emotions, from disbelief to suspicion and anger. In addition to Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, Anzor Tsarnaev and his wife, Zubeidat, have two daughters.

Before he immigrated, Anzor was a lawyer, reports The Boston Globe, noting that he worked as a mechanic in the United States. The newspaper reports that Zubeidat was a cosmetologist.

The brothers' parents, who are reported to be in the Russian republic of Dagestan, have refuted the official version of events, insisting that their sons would not be capable of actions that would injure dozens and leave at least four people dead.

"I'm sure about my children, in their purity. I don't know what happened and who did this. God knows and he will punish them," Russia Today quotes Anzor telling Zvezda TV. "Somebody might have set them up."

Russia Today says their mother has similar ideas — and that she blames the FBI.

"They used to come [to our] home, they used to talk to me ... they were telling me that [Tamerlan] was really an extremist leader and that they were afraid of him," she tells RT. "They told me whatever information he is getting, he gets from these extremist sites ... they were controlling him, they were controlling his every step ... and now they say that this is a terrorist act! Never ever is this true, my sons are innocent!"

As NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Russia, the Tsarnaevs "are ethnic Chechens with roots in the mountainous part of southern Russia between the Black and Caspian Seas."

But Corey notes that Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has distanced himself from the name that became infamous Thursday. "We do not know such people," Kadyrov said of the family. "They did not live in Chechnya."

As The Two-Way reported this morning, the FBI has released a statement to confirm that the agency gathered information on Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011, after a foreign government requested information about him.

The request was made out of concern "that [Tsarnaev] was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country's region to join unspecified underground groups."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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