Raw emotions at UMass Dartmouth as campus reopens

UMass Dartmouth students were evacuated from campus on Friday as authorities searched for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Peter Pereira/Associated Press
UMass Dartmouth students were evacuated from campus on Friday as authorities searched for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

DARTMOUTH — As the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth slowly came to life on Sunday, students struggled to reconcile the video-game lover they knew on campus with the accused bomber they saw on television.

Emotions were still raw on the campus, which was abruptly closed Friday amid the massive manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The suspect, a sophomore at the college, was captured in Watertown on Friday evening and is hospitalized in serious condition.

A university official said Sunday that Tsarnaev was on the campus from Tuesday, the day after the Marathon bombings, to Thursday, when law enforcement officials broadcast his picture as a suspect.


Michael Derby, a 19-year-old sophomore marketing major from Lynn, described himself as a casual friend of Tsarnaev, and the two played video games and soccer and watched television together on campus.

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But Derby found himself Monday afternoon at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, along with his mother and brother, waiting for his father to finish the race. The discovery of Tsarnaev’s alleged involvement has left Derby shocked — and angry. Neither he nor his family were injured.

“I saw what happened, and the fact that I knew someone who could do that kind of damage . . .” he said Sunday, his voice trailing off.

By Sunday afternoon, the campus was showing signs of life. Dorms reopened at noon. The baseball team played. And an old staple of college life, an ice cream social, was scheduled for Sunday night in the library. At 8 p.m., about 100 students chatted as they got ice cream.

But as students trickled back around the rapidly greening campus of around 8,000 undergraduates, many wondered when it would be normal again.


“It is scary we go to school” with a suspected bomber, said Brittany Letendre, a freshman psychology major from Wareham who wore a gray UMass Dartmouth sweatshirt. She knew him enough to say hello to him at parties, noting “it’s a small campus.”

She’s still shocked he could be responsible.

“I’m embarrassed for the school,” she said, although she has no thoughts of leaving. “I’ve made so many friends here and the professors are great.”

University spokesman John Hoey confirmed Sunday that Tsarnaev had a roommate in Pine Dale Hall, another sophomore, though no information about him was available.

Hoey said that reopening the school, about 60 miles south of Boston, after the sudden lockdown was similar to restarting after spring break or after a big storm.


“We’re trying to return to normalcy, but realize people have questions and concerns,” he said.

Exams, scheduled to start in about a week, will go on as planned. But professors were asked to remember the trauma students had endured. Campus clergy and senior staff will be available.

For now, the new normal might include law enforcement authorities combing the campus and international news media keeping the college in the spotlight.

Security on campus was relatively relaxed by midafternoon Sunday, as news crews from across the United States and Britain buttonholed students to speak with them. By 6 p.m., however, police cruisers blocked access to the roads leading to the dorms except for those who lived there.

Still, the visible police presence had diminished. During the lockdown Friday afternoon, three black helicopters landed at the main entrance, dropping of a dozen armed police officers who ran onto campus. Nearly a dozen State Police cruisers with lights flashing raced through the main campus entrance, followed by SUVs carrying personnel in military fatigues.

One keen area of interest for law enforcement is tracking Tsarnaev’s movements after the bombings.

He apparently spent several normal days on campus, a school official has said, working out in the gym on Wednesday, then sleeping in his dorm room that night, while law enforcement officials frantically scanned photos trying to identify the men who unleashed the terror on Monday.

A university official said students recognized the name of the bombing suspect from news reports Friday morning and told campus police that the suspect was a student.

At 8:13 a.m. the Pine Dale residence hall, home to 400 students, mostly sophomores, had been evacuated by campus police.

On Sunday the college said in a statement that it was “proud of our entire community for the way we have all worked together during this difficult time.

“So many of you — our staff, students, and faculty — have reached out to help us find solutions to the many challenges we faced,” the statement said. “It is wonderful that even in a time of great adversity our community was able to pull together to ensure the safety of all. Thank you.”

Matt Carroll can be reached at mcarroll@ Follow him on Twitter @globemattc.