NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- I have two family friends — Sam and Nathan Greenberg — who went to high school at Cambridge Rindge and Latin with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old Boston Marathon bombing suspect who is at large. They both say they can’t square the terror he is accused of sowing this week with the boy they knew from sports and just around school.
“He was really nice,” Sam Greenberg, now a junior at Harvard, told me over the phone. Sam played junior varsity soccer with Tsarnaev for a year and also hung out with him occasionally in the athletic area after school. “He was pretty quiet. Didn’t have a ton to say but was very normal, seemed like a nice kid.”
Sam remembers that Tsarnaev had plenty of friends. “I don’t know about close friends, but he was friendly with a lot of people,” Sam said. “It feels really weird, knowing now that he did this, and talking to my friends so far who knew him, some of them better than I did, there’s a strong consensus he was pretty normal.” This matches other reports from former classmates.
Sam said that “everybody knew he was from Russia or somewhere around there,” and that Tsarnaev had an accent, but “not super strong.” He spoke English well, and, at the time, Dzhokhar went by the name Jahar. He was the opposite of a loner. Greenberg remembers him from the 2008-09 school year; he’s not sure whether Tsarnaev came to Rindge and Latin that year, or earlier.
Nathan Greenberg said, “I just remember seeing him on the wrestling team, just one of the normal kids. He seemed like a nice guy. He hung out with people who I knew as nice people. It’s bizarre. When I think of that grade, they were just the regular kids. I saw pictures of him at a pre-prom party on Facebook, and it’s just a mix of kids.”
Tsarnaev and his family were reportedly refugees from Dagestan, on the eastern border of Chechnya, who lived for years in Kazakhstan before coming to the United States. It doesn’t sound like at high school he stuck to other immigrant kids, or kids from Russia and the surrounding regions. Neither Sam nor Nathan heard Dzhokhar Tsarnaev mention his older brother, Tamerlan, the 26-year-old former Bunker Hill Community College student and boxer who died Thursday night after a shootout with police, and who appears to have been more radicalized. (And was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend in 2009, according to public records.) Just knowing Dzhokhar, Nathan said about this week’s violence, “I just don’t get it at all.”
Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and writes about law, family, and kids.