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Former Classmate Of Suspect: He Was 'Friendly, Quiet'

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Former Classmate Of Suspect: He Was 'Friendly, Quiet'

Former Classmate Of Suspect: He Was 'Friendly, Quiet'

Former Classmate Of Suspect: He Was 'Friendly, Quiet'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Melissa Block talks to a high school classmate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's. Sierra Schwartz went to Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School with Dzhokhar, who goes by Jahar.


High school classmates of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are reeling from today's revelation that their friend is being hunted as one of the marathon bombers. Sierra Schwartz went to Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School with Jahar. They shared an acting class. They were both part of a large group who went to senior prom together. And they socialized together at parties.

I asked Sierra about the Jahar she remembers.

SIERRA SCHWARTZ: The man I knew is astronomically different than the man that is hiding from the cops today. The Jahar that I knew at the time was friendly, quiet but not in a alarming way. He was just, you know, soft-spoken but very, you know, funny, very sweet, wouldn't harm a fly, someone that you would want to talk to.

BLOCK: You know, I was talking with one of your classmates on the phone today and she mentioned that she also had a class with Jahar. And he typically would wear a baseball cap backwards.

SCHWARTZ: Yes, yes. That was his thing.

BLOCK: Which is, as we know now, what the suspect of the marathon bombings was doing.

SCHWARTZ: Exactly. He'd wear it backwards and, you know, a pair of gray sweatpants. It's weird. I can almost think of what he would wear. It's very bizarre to see his face all over the news, wanted by the FBI. He was just, you know, just a normal, everyday person. And it's just crazy how people can change so quickly.

BLOCK: What kinds of kids did he hang out with mostly in high school?

SCHWARTZ: He hung out with, you know, the well-liked kids. He - I saw him as a floater. He - you know, he had friends in different friendship circles. He was never an outcast, never ever made fun of. He was always a friend to many, I guess, at the time he was.

BLOCK: What was the class that you had together?

SCHWARTZ: I had introduction to acting with him. So that's how I got to know him. I'm sure if it had been a bigger class I would not have been able to have as good of a description. But since I had a small class, it's much easier.

BLOCK: When you saw the images that were released by the FBI last night...


BLOCK: ...did you know right away? Did you recognize Jahar?

SCHWARTZ: At the time, when I first saw the FBI images, there was rumor that the man - a wrong rumor, incorrect - that the man in the white cap, who is Jahar, was the missing student from Brown University.

BLOCK: We should explain, there's a student who's been missing for, I think, a little over a month...


BLOCK: ...or part of a month.

SCHWARTZ: Yes, ma'am.

BLOCK: And there was some speculation that this might have been that student.

SCHWARTZ: Yes. So we had all assumed that it was him. We didn't put two and two together. But last night when I saw his picture I was like, oh - I was thinking in the back of my head - oh, he looks just like Jahar. That's so weird. Like, what a coincidence.

BLOCK: And when did you put it together that actually this was your classmate?

SCHWARTZ: This morning when I woke up. I woke up around 7:30 a.m., 8 a.m. and I had a bunch of texts from my friends saying, Sierra, it's Jahar. It was actually Jahar. I didn't think it was him but it is. And we just all cried together. We mourned - for the people whose lives were lost; for someone that we thought was such an, you know, innocent, kind person that had - could have possibly done something so horrendous and unspeakable. It's heartbreaking. It really is. It's hard to imagine or even comprehend.

BLOCK: You were saying you were all mourning the people who died. And I suppose also mourning the memory of this kid you knew.

SCHWARTZ: Of course. We were in absolute shock and mourning that the person that exists now is - it's not the person that we grew up with. It seems like he just changed in such a rapid, crazy way.

BLOCK: And you said you were part of a large group that went to prom together.

SCHWARTZ: Yes. It was a group of maybe 30, 40 people. We all had individual dates but we took our photos together. We took, you know, ate snacks and went on the party bus together.

BLOCK: So part of your brain has an image of him, I suppose, in a tuxedo.

SCHWARTZ: Yes, exactly. Part of my brain sees him as, you know, the kid in the backwards baseball cap with the gray sweatpants or, you know, in a tuxedo laughing. And another part of me sees him as, you know, a murderer, someone who committed these just horrendous acts. And slowly I'm able to put these two together and, you know, accept that it's one person.

BLOCK: How do you come to terms with that, do you think? How do you try to explain that to yourself?

SCHWARTZ: I've been trying to, you know, think: people change. There's just some things that are out of our control. I was feeling very guilty. I know a lot of us are feeling guilty, you know. Could we have known? Could we have done something? Is there any way? But I think the truth of the matter is that we just didn't know and that something had happened and something had sparked this. But none of us knew.

BLOCK: Sierra Schwartz, thank you for coming in.

SCHWARTZ: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Sierra Schwartz was a high school classmate of Dzhokhar Tsarneav at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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