Bombing suspect spent Wednesday as typical student
DARTMOUTH — Dzhokhar Tsarnaev spent an apparently normal day Wednesday at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where he was a sophomore, according to a school official, working out in the gym, then sleeping in his dorm room that night, while law enforcement officials frantically scanned photos trying to identify the men who planted deadly bombs at the Boston Marathon on Monday.
Card swipes told officials that Tsarnaev, described as a good and typical student who played intramural soccer, was on campus Wednesday, but it was not clear if he had been there earlier in the week.
A student, who did not want to be identified, also said she saw Tsarnaev at a party on Wednesday night that was attended by some of his soccer friends.
“He was just relaxed,” she said.
Tsarnaev, 19, was the subject of an intense manhunt until he was cornered and captured in a backyard in Watertown on Friday evening. His brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed early Friday morning in a shootout with police.
In a phone interview Friday morning, Pamala Rolon, 22, a UMass Dartmouth senior and a resident assistant at the Pine Dale Hall dorms, where Tsarnaev lived, said she has known him for a year and finds the notion that he played any role in the bombing incredible.
“He studied. He hung out with me and my friends,” she said. “I’m in shock.”
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had done well academically in high school, but The New York Times reported that he was failing many of his courses at UMass Dartmouth. The Times said a school transcript showed seven failing grades over two semesters in 2012 and 2013, including Fs in Principles of Modern Chemistry, Intro American Politics, and Chemistry and the Environment. According to the transcript, Tsarnaev got a B in Critical Writing and a D and D-plus in two other courses.
The UMass Dartmouth campus in the southeastern part of the state closed early Friday morning after school officials realized the younger of the two men authorities said were responsible for the Monday bombing was a student there.
The campus remained on lockdown throughout the day, with armed police blocking the main entrance. The shutdown was staggered — first the suspect’s dorm, and then the entire campus. Students living on campus were evacuated to Dartmouth High School.
On its website Friday, the school posted a stark message: “UMass Dartmouth has learned that a person being sought in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing has been identified as a student registered at UMass Dartmouth. The campus is closed. Individuals on campus should shelter in place unless instructed otherwise.”
During the lockdown, three black helicopters landed at the main entrance early in the afternoon, carrying about a dozen armed police officers who ran onto campus. Two U-Haul trucks arrived a short time later and drove onto campus; three U-Hauls had arrived earlier. Around 3:30 p.m., 11 State Police cruisers with lights flashing raced through the main campus entrance, followed by SUVs carrying personnel wearing military fatigues.
A handful of students milled about the front entrance, watching police come and go.
Rolon said when she returned from class Thursday afternoon, she and her friends watched a television news broadcast showing the images of the suspects, including one she thought looked faintly like Tsarnaev.
“We made a joke like — that could be Dzhokhar,” she said. “But then we thought it just couldn’t be him. Dzhokhar? Never.”
Tsarnaev was quite studious, she said. He had not been seen on campus during the past two weeks, she said, but she did not think much about it because everyone was busy with tests and studying.
Rolon said she finds it impossible to believe he was involved in any zealous religious or political cause, or would turn to violence.
“I think he’s Muslim, but not so religious,” she said. “He’s a normal city kid.”
She also said that Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen who came to the United States with his family from Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, did not talk about Russian or international politics.
“He never said anything about Russia versus the United States,” she said.
She said Tsarnaev dressed typically in sweaters and jeans and fit in easily on campus. He spoke English with barely a trace of an accent. He had a roommate, she said, but she declined to give the student’s name. Rolon said she never met his family.
Chris Baratta, 22, a senior nursing student from Acton, lives across the street from campus. He played intramural soccer against Tsarnaev last year, but said nothing unusual stood out about him.
“You just sign up and make your own team, and whoever plays, plays,” he said.
He said friends of his smoked marijuana with Tsarnaev, but nothing stood out about the student.
Katie Horan, a sophomore at UMass Dartmouth who lives in Tsarnaev’s dorm, said the alarm went off around 7:45 a.m. telling everyone in the building to evacuate.
“What’s going on?” she said as the students emptied the building, unsure of why they had to leave.
She said two hours later, school officials announced a total campus evacuation; they learned officially that it was because a student was linked to the Marathon bombing.
Another student, Raja Nageswaran, 25, said Tsarnaev attended a gathering last fall at his home. No one who lived at the home had invited Tsarnaev and three friends who came to the gathering, he said.
“He was pretty social,” Nageswaran said. “He was pretty liked by most of the people.”
Nageswaran’s roommate, Emily DeInnocentis, 23, said Tsarnaev stood out to her because of some odd behavior, like spreading messy string cheese all over her couch, and picking up her cat and carrying it upstairs for no reason.
“We just didn’t invite him over after that. How many people just pick up your cat and go upstairs?” she said.