April 20, 2013

Classmates of suspect: 'Normal kid, funny, calm'

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s friends at UMass-Dartmouth are shocked to learn he is a suspect in the deadly marathon bombings.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Students at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, where the younger of the two brothers who are suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings was enrolled, believe that he returned to campus after the attack Monday, and that people saw him there Tuesday.

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UMASS-Dartmouth students were evacuated from campus on Friday, April 19, 2013as local and state officials investigate the dorm room of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, one of the two suspects wanted for the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was registered as a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, the school said. The campus closed down along with colleges around the Boston area. (AP Photo/Standard Times, Peter Pereira)

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UMASS-Dartmouth students stand outside he Pine Dale Hall dormitory that Dzhokhar Tsamaev, lived in on Friday, April 19, 2013 in Dartmouth, Mass., as students were evacuated from campus on Friday, April 19, 2013, as local and state officials investigate the dorm room of Tsarnaev, 19, one of the two suspects wanted for the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday. The campus closed down along with colleges around the Boston area. (AP Photo/Standard Times, Peter Pereira)

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Veronica Miller, a sophomore engineering student at UMass-Dartmouth, said she was shocked to see the face of her friend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, on television Friday morning, when the campus was evacuated.

Miller said she has known Tsarnaev for about a year and a half.

"I would describe him as a normal kid, funny, calm," said Miller, who lives in Fairhaven, Mass. "We would kind of just hang out on campus and just get lunch. Nothing out of the ordinary, normal."

Miller said she last saw Tsarnaev two weeks ago and nothing appeared to be amiss.

She said she couldn't think of any particular interests that Tsarnaev may have had.

"I don't think he was into any sports. We never talked about family or anything. He was kind of closed off with that stuff," she said. "He just liked rap music, hip hop, stuff like that."

Miller said she wouldn't describe Tsarnaev as a good student. "I know he slept a lot in class," she said. "I don't know what his grades were like."

Miller said she is spooked and trying to stay away from the campus for now.

"He was so normal, and you trust someone like that," she said. "It could be anyone."

UMass-Dartmouth has more than 9,000 students. Will Richmond, a reporter for The Herald News of Fall River, Mass., went to the university after the campus was closed.

He said police had set up a staging area for officers and vehicles across from the Pine Dale dormitory, where Tsarnaev lived, but it did not appear that anyone had entered the building.

"Right now, it's mostly quiet," he said. "Pine Dale is completely surrounded by yellow crime tape."

Richmond said he spoke to several students. "They all said it's scary but they're not scared," he said.

The Dartmouth campus, one of many in the University of Massachusetts system, is in the southeastern coastal part of the state, about 60 miles south of Boston.

Kevin Pereira of Rehoboth, Mass., a sophomore who is studying English and marketing, said everyone who knew Tsarnaev described him as a "cool, normal kid."

"They seemed kind of surprised," he said. "I heard he was on campus right after the bombing. People actually saw him at the library."

Pereira said people last saw Tsarnaev on campus Tuesday.

He said he was in the school's library around 8:45 Friday morning "and someone came in and said the campus had been shut down. I was shocked."

Shortly afterward, university official sent a text message telling all students that the school was being evacuated. After the text message, Pereira said, he got a phone call and an email with more details.

"It was all pretty quick," he said of the evacuation.

Sophomore J.J. Shea, an accounting student from Milford, Mass., said he lived in the same dorm as Tsarnaev but didn't know him.

"It's kind of spooky. I'm not as spooked because I know he's not there," Shea said. "It is creepy that he went to my school and that he lived in my same building."

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

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