Classmate of Boston Bombing Suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Struggling to Reconcile Friend She Knew

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: Thousands of police officers with rifles have been roaming the streets around Boston today. The city and nearby communities remain in lockdown as authorities search for the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings. The first suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed early this morning in a violent confrontation with police. His brother, 19-year-old Dzhokhar is still at large. But the brothers are ethnic Chechens from Russia and they lived in Massachusetts for a decade. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev graduated from the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 2011. It's a public high school. Rebecca Mazur was his classmate in an AP language and composition class. She considered Dzhokhar a friend and she's struggling to reconcile the teenager she knew at school and at parties with the fugitive she's seeing on TV.

Rebecca Mazur: I'm feeling sort of like there are two things going on in the world. There's on in which there is a manhunt on for a terrible criminal who blew up the Boston Marathon and killed a police officer. And then there's another totally distinct reality in which somehow this really sweet, friendly kind of quiet guy I went to high school with is that person. And it just doesn't compute, and I think from what I've heard from other classmates, nobody had any inkling of this. You know, he might not have been sort of the most loud rambunctious kid in high school, but he was really friendly and really good natured and it just, you know, I instinctively feel I must defend him and defend his character, and yet then I see a picture of the cop they killed and like remember the marathon two days ago, and it just doesn't make any sense. And I feel that I want terribly to know what happened, to know what was going on in his life. You know, what influences there were that made him do this because this was not, he wasn't a violent, angry person, at least in some respect he wasn't.

Schachter: And what was it like, you know, being with him? Chatty guy? Smart? Interested in things?

Mazur: Not super chatty, at least not to me, but definitely smart. The one class we had together was an AP class and I've learned also that he skipped a grade in elementary school. So definitely smart, definitely engaged. I remember I worked with him on group, like in-class projects now and then in that class, and he was never, you know, sort of the leader, but he always did his share of the work and he did it competently and well as far as I remember. And he was really friendly with everyone, like everyone in the hallway was you know, it was a pretty close sized school community and he was definitely a part of that community, a welcomed accepted part of that community.

Schachter: You were part of a group that went to prom, is that correct?

Mazur: Yes, yes.

Schachter: So he, as you say, he participated in the normal activities that teenagers in America participate in. He wasn't you know, the loner or anything like that.

Mazur: Yeah, he really wasn't. He, you know, was a little maybe quiet, but I think that's just because I didn't know him well. And he was still really sort of friendly, and funny and goofy. There was nothing that struck—there was nothing that seemed worrisome in his character at all.

Schachter: Rebecca, did Dzhokhar, who you call Dzhokhar, Dzhokhar

Mazur: Dzhokhar.

Schachter: Dzhokhar, did he talk about his older brother at all? Did you ever meet the older brother?

Mazur: No, I never heard or met the older brother, but I like I said, I didn't really speak to him regularly or about sort of non-school things. And when I saw him at social gatherings we never really spoke about much.

Schachter: I don't want to sound sensational about this, but it's suggested that he's become radicalized in some way. Was there ever any discussion about politics, religion, any of those subjects that could cause someone to be especially emotional?

Mazur: Actually, yes, the curriculum of our high school is I think you know, incredibly progressive, and we talked about those things in class. And there was some kids who had really strong feelings. And he never seemed to be one of them. And there were kids who you know, were really strong advocates of you know, they're not stereotyping the Islamic community and things like that. And everybody was you know, very, very liberal and accepting. And we talked about those issues. We talked about all sorts of things, and I never got a feeling that he was particularly bothered or affected. And it seemed like it would have shown up in the class discussions, but maybe there was a hint of it and I didn't see it, but I didn't see it.

Schachter: You know, I wonder and I don't want to sound accusatory, it's just a question that popped into my mind, do you think you or any of the group that hung out with him might feel a bit guilty about not noticing whatever it was that might have changed in him?

Mazur: Well, I haven't seen him in years. I feel guilty only if there was something at the time, some way in which we weren't treating him as well as we thought. If it was harder to adjust to the life in America after life in Chechnya and we didn't realize that and we just though oh, funny kid, let's hang out with him…but I really, I didn't know him well enough. I just hope we were treating him as well as we thought.

Schachter: Yeah. Rebecca, thank you so much.

Mazur: No problem.