From Family To Digital Footprints: A Portrait Of Tsarnaevs

NPR's Daniel Zwerdling reports on what's known about the two brothers suspected in the Boston Marathon bombing, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

Now, more about the lives of the two young men who are the suspects in the bombings. A team of reporters here at NPR piece together information about them.

NPR's Daniel Zwerdling has this story about the Tsarnaevs' backgrounds and what might have led them to mass violence.

DANIEL ZWERDLING, BYLINE: It's amazing how many details you can find out about somebody's life in just a few hours. But there are details, and they don't tell you anything about what's really inside the person's soul. A lot of people we talked to who knew the brothers say pretty much what their aunt said. Her name is Maret Tsarnaeva. How could this be true? Could they have really done this?

MARET TSARNAEVA: This truly doesn't make sense to me. Truly. Knowing these two boys, knowing what their values are, what grudge they might have? It's not like they would be sitting there and plotting something against humanity.

ZWERDLING: Tamerlan Tsarnaev, he was the oldest brother in the black hat. He's the one who got killed. He was born in Kyrgyzstan. He lived briefly in Chechnya. He came to the U.S. around 10 years ago as a teenager. He studied accounting off and on at community college, and he was into boxing.

Chris Coogan(ph) says he used to box with him at a gym. He says Tsarnaev was good. A photo a few years ago shows Tsarnaev grinning. He's getting a big shiny trophy for winning the New England Golden Glove Championship. Coogan says he didn't seem religious or angry then. Maybe he was a bit off in his own world.

CHRIS COOGAN: He was actually quiet and, like, standoffish a little bit, maybe arrogant, didn't talk a lot. But he was actually pretty helpful as far as helping people with, like, technique and stuff.

ZWERDLING: One of the most interesting footprints that Tsarnaev left is his wish list on Amazon.com. Here are some of the things he listed: "How To Make Driver's Licenses and Other IDs On Your Home Computer," a paperback called "The ID Forger," the eternal best-seller "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie and a Chechen dictionary and phrase book.

And three women who knew him told NPR that they saw a dark side. They say the first year in college, he'd party with them. But then around 2008, 2009, he became a devout Muslim. He ordered his girlfriend to cover herself and convert to Islam. They say they saw Tsarnaev fly into rages and throw things. He'd shout at his girlfriend that she was a prostitute, a slut. A profile on YouTube with Tsarnaev's name on it had links to videos about radical Islam, but we haven't been able to confirm that it's the same Tsarnaev.

The younger brother in the white hat, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, people say positive things about him. Sierra Schwartz went to school with him.

SIERRA SCHWARTZ: Friendly, quiet but not in an alarming way. He was just, you know, soft spoken, but very, you know, funny, very sweet, sociable, always, you know, had someone to eat lunch with. He never seemed like an outcast ever.

ZWERDLING: The records show that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a good student. He got a scholarship from the city of Cambridge. And he was a good wrestler. He was cited a couple of years ago as one of the Greater Boston League Winter All Stars. A guy who knew him, Zolan Young, says Tsarnaev was the kind of younger man you could count on.

ZOLAN YOUNG: This was somebody that if I need a ride home late at night, I could always know that Dzhokhar would give it to me. If anyone tells you that there was any sort of detail in this kid's character, in this kid's attitude, in his, you know, in his activities that he did daily, that he would do anything like this, they're absolutely lying.

ZWERDLING: But here's a chilling part. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev apparently was an avid Tweeter. A year ago, his tweets read like any 18-year-old: No matter how many times I'm late and no matter the consequences, I swear I still manage to be late. Then the day of the bombing, last Monday, he wrote: Ain't no love in the heart of the city. Stay safe, people. Daniel Zwerdling, NPR News.

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