For years, Anzor Tsarnaev, father of the suspected Boston Marathon bombers, repaired cars in a narrow parking lot behind Yayla Tribal Rugs in Cambridge. It was a casual arrangement that developed over time, just a neighbor helping a neighbor.
“He used the space free of charge, off and on when he had work, over a period of many years,’’ said Christopher Walter, founder of the rug shop. “He was somebody from the neighborhood, and he was kind of a poor guy, struggling to support a big family.”
Tsarnaev, 46, has told media outlets he was a lawyer in Kyrgyzstan, where the family lived until 2001. But in the United States, he supported his wife and four children by working as an unlicensed mechanic. It did not help that he spoke minimal English. Tsarnaev spent his days fixing old cars behind a chain-link fence, borrowing tools so frequently from garages across the street that one eventually shut him off.
He became a familiar face in the neighborhood around Broadway in Cambridge, sometimes working in one of those garages, which at the time was called RAS Auto. On some days, he brought his older son, Tamerlan, to help. Neighbors recall seeing Tamerlan, who was killed in a shoot-out with police last week, helping to push disabled cars into the lot behind Yayla, or shoveling snow.
When Anzor Tsarnaev’s two sons turned out to be the prime suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings last week, “You can imagine we were more stunned than anybody,’’ Walter said. “It was a tremendous, tremendous shock for us.”
Tsarnaev has been in Russia for more than a year now, but on Monday, a week after the bombings, FBI agents visited the brick building that houses Yayla. They searched the back of the building — near the lot where Tsarnaev used to work — and spent hours bagging items and placing them in a truck. Yellow police tape cordoned off the block, while Walter and others inside the store cooperated and ate lunch.
On Broadway, with its small businesses and residential cross streets, Tsarnaev was considered friendly, engaging in conversation and waving to people on his way to the corner store.
Irene O’Bannon, a crossing guard who has worked the block for a decade, said she saw him almost daily, opening the gate behind the rug store many afternoons at about 2:25 p.m., just as she was trying to help schoolchildren cross the street.
O’Bannon said she often told Tsarnaev, “I have to make sure nobody hits my babies.” Sometimes she told him to close the gate so the children wouldn’t have to walk around it. He complied with a smile, she said.
At home, a half-mile away on Norfolk Street, the daily routine was reportedly less peaceful.
Neighbors spoke of loud fights and police visits, as previously reported by the Globe. Ultimately, Tsarnaev and his wife, Zubeidat, divorced. In June, Zubeidat Tsarnaeve was arrested on charges of shoplifting at a Lord & Taylor department store in Natick. She failed to show up in court and returned to Russia, according to news reports.
Both parents are expected to fly to Boston this week to cooperate with the investigation into their sons’ involvement in the bombings, according to a Russian news service.
It’s unclear how much the family strife affected Tamerlan and his younger brother, Dzhokhar. When he was working alongside his father, Tamerlan acted politely, said Walter, of Yayla Tribal Rugs. But he also noticed the young man developing a self-centered attitude.
“He had an elevated opinion of himself,’’ Walter said.
On a couple of occasions, Anzor Tsarnaev hired the nearby Junior’s Auto Body to paint a car or repair a bumper. When it came to prices, owner Gilberto Junior recalled, “He was cheap.’’ But that wasn’t out of the ordinary, he noted.
“Every person that buys and sells used cars, they’re cheap. They spend as [little] as they can,’’ Junior said.
Whether Anzor was buying and selling cars is not known. Dzhokhar, 19, who is still hospitalized and facing federal charges for his alleged role in the bombings, also hired Junior many times to paint or repair old cars. Dzhokhar told Junior the cars belonged to friends, and when the work done, he always paid in cash, Junior said. It is unclear whether Dzhokhar was earning a commission from friends.
Walter said he still believes Anzor has to be shocked by his sons’ alleged involvement in terrorism.
“I believe this was a tremendous blow” for him, he said. “He was a good man, a hard-working guy.”