Boston suspects: Immigrant dream to American nightmare

Updated 10:49 AM EDT, Sun April 21, 2013

Story highlights

The two brothers came to America with their family to start a new life

The older brother was a good boxer who quit college, got married and had a baby

The younger brother won a scholarship and wrestled

"I don't have a single American friend," says a website post in older brother's name

Boston CNN —  

They might have fulfilled every immigrant’s dream, fleeing a war-torn part of the world and settling into a quiet life in America, one buoyed by aspiration and a will to succeed.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, loved to box. And he was talented. At 196 pounds, he represented New England as a heavyweight in the National Golden Gloves boxing tournament. He wanted to make it on an Olympic team.

His brother, Dzhokar, 19, graduated in 2011 from Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, the alma mater of actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The city awarded Dzhokar a $2,500 scholarship. And he, too, was an athlete – a wrestler. He was named student athlete of the month and made the state playoffs.

But something went wrong somewhere.

This week, the brothers Tsarnaev became the target of a massive manhunt after police identified them as the suspects behind Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings.

Tamerlan died early Friday after a night of ferocious gun battles. The world watched live on television Friday night as police laid siege to Watertown, Massachusetts, and finally captured Dzhokar.

It was unclear what might have motivated the brothers to commit the heinous crime they are suspected of carrying out. All day Friday, reporters sought out people who knew them, trying to understand one thing: Why?

What unfolded was a story typical of the American immigrant narrative: A family originally from the Russian republic of Chechnya fled the brutal wars in their homeland in the 1990s. They moved to neighboring Russian republics before at last arriving in the United States.

The youngest, Dzhokar, came first with his parents, according to his aunt, Maret Tsarnaev. The older son, Tamerlan, was initially left behind with his two sisters.

Eventually, they were reunited – a family of six whose American journey contained elements of a struggle to fit in and success in making a new life.

Analysis: Older suspect grew increasingly religious

Hints of unhappiness

Another familiar narrative also emerged Friday: a high-profile crime followed by a crusade to find out who did it. First, there were photographs, then names attached to the images. And shock.

Friends and acquaintances of the Tsarnaev brothers expressed disbelief. The two men were nice, friendly. Quiet. The kind of guys you’d never even notice or look at twice if you passed them on the street.

Their aunt spoke with Canada’s CTV and described the boys’ childhood as perfect. Their father, Anzor, was a loving, soft-hearted man. She said he and his wife, Zubeidat, have moved back to Dagestan, which borders Chechnya.

Dzhokar came to America on July 1, 2002, as a tourist and asked for asylum, a federal official told CNN. He was naturalized as a U.S. citizen on September 11 last year.

There was some dispute over when his older brother arrived. The U.S. official said he came four years later on September 6, 2006, and held a permanent resident visa. But another federal official said Tamerlan first entered the United States on July 19, 2003.

Alyssa Lindley Kilzer said she often visited the apartment at 410 Norfolk St. in Cambridge, where the Tsarnaevs lived. Kilzer used to get facials from Zubeidat at a local spa but, after she was fired, Kilzer began going to her house.

She wrote about her experience on her Tumblr blog and said the staircase was crowded with shoes and the house was filled with the noise of arguments, cooking and other household chores. It was hardly spa-like but Kilzer thought Zubeidat gave great facials.

But she became increasingly uncomfortable going to the apartment because of Zubeidat’s growing religious fervor.

“She started quoting conspiracy theories, telling me that she thought 9-11 was purposefully created by the American government to make America hate Muslims,” she wrote.

Zubeidat told her: “It’s real. My son knows all about it. You can read it on the Internet.”

Kilzer said she met Tamerlan only once – he wasn’t friendly, she thought.

He was a dapper dresser and drove a Mercedes, according to an online photo gallery titled “Will Box for Passport.”

“I’m dressed European style,” Tamarlan said in a caption accompanying a photo of white leather shoes.

FBI agents interviewed bombing suspect in 2011

Photographer Johannes Hirn shot images of Tamerlan at the Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts Center on Brighton Street in Cambridge. That’s where he trained before the Golden Gloves.

He was a good boxer, said Gene McCarthy from the Sommerville Boxing Club, who’d coached Tamerlan since he was 16.

He was more than 6-feet tall, with long arms and determination written all over him. Once, he fought in a New England championship match even though he had the flu and fever blisters covered his lips. He won.

Tamerlan had been boxing since he was a kid – his father began training him while they were still living in the Caucasus region.