As the manhunt for one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing continued through the day Friday, UMass Dartmouth undertook a campus-wide evacuation after officials there confirmed that Dzokhar “Jahar” Tsarnaev was registered at the university.
Tsarnaev is even believed to have spent time at the school Wednesday after allegedly participating in Monday’s attack.
However, UMass Dartmouth wasn’t the only school where the 19-year-old Tsarnaev spent time during his brief college career. Tsarnaev, who was apprehended by authorities Friday night, initially enrolled at UMass Boston, but withdrew before attending a single class, a decision one of his good friends said was motivated by a desire to focus on “parties.”Yushun Tsou attended Cambridge Rindge & Latin high school with Tsarnaev. They both joined the wrestling team in their sophomore year, which began in 2008. Tsou told TPM that Tssarnaev was a “well-respected wrestler” who rose to become team captain in his senior year. Because they were both on the team, Tsou said he “hung out basically every single day” with Tsarnaev during wrestling season. After their graduation, both Tsou and Tsarnaev went to UMass Boston. Tsou said their freshman orientation was one of the last times they spoke and Tsarnaev discussed his plan to change schools.
“When I spoke with him, he was interested in switching to UMass Dartmouth just because he was interested in following parties,” said Tsou. “We were cracking jokes.”
A spokesman for UMass Boston, DeWayne Lehman, confirmed Tsarnaev was registered at the school in fall of 2011.
“He applied for admission at UMass Boston in 2011 and he was admitted. He did register for classes, but he withdrew from his classes before the semester started,” Lehman said.
Lehman also said he believed Tsarnaev did attend freshman orientation before departing for UMass Dartmouth.
“My understanding is that he did and freshman orientation is when, then or soon after, that you register for classes,” said Lehman. “So, he did register for classes and he did withdraw himself from the university, so he never actually attended any classes in the fall 2011 semester.”
Once Tsarnaev settled in at UMass Dartmouth, his grades were reportedly less than stellar. According to the New York Times, Tsarnaev received “seven failing grades over two semesters in 2012 and 2013.”
Tsou said he had the impression Tsarnaev planned to focus on the social aspect of college rather than the academic.
“When I was talking to him during orientation, it seemed like his intention for the future was just kind of to coast through college and to enjoy it. … During orientation, I asked him what his major was, he said he was undecided,” explained Tsou. “His future plan was to coast and enjoy life. That’s pretty much it. … When he applied to UMass Boston, his major was undeclared and his only major motivation was just to have fun.”
In high school, Tsou said Tsarnaev was also committed to having a good time.
“A lot of people said he was quiet, he wasn’t very quiet. He joked around a lot,” said Tsou. “I feel like being part of the — one of his teammates, I got to see him joke around a lot more than everyone else. He was a clown in my opinion. He was a really fun guy to be with.”
A classmate who did not wish to be named, described some of Tsarnaev’s recreational activities.
“He smoked a lot, he was a stoner. He drank, he went to parties, he did all the things that we all did in high school,” the classmate said.
Though he liked to party, Tsou said Tsarnaev’s religion was quite important to him. However, Tsou said Tsarnaev had a “laid back” attitude about Islam.
“I’ve always known that he was a very firm Muslim,” said Tsou. “He went to the mosque sometimes. He and I talked about him and his religious views. He was just kind of laid back about it all.”
As he did on social media, Tsou said Tsarnaev simply cited his religion when asked about his political beliefs. Tsou said Tsarnaev shied away from discussing political issues and always had the same, short answer when talk turned to politics.
“Whenever I talked to Jahar about it, he would very subtly just shrug his shoulders and be like, ‘Well, I’m Muslim,’ and that was pretty much it,” Tsou recalled.
After Tsarnaev switched schools, Tsou said they “kind of lost contact.” Like many of Tsarnaev’s other friends and family members, Tsou said he never would have expected Tsarnaev to be capable of such dramatic violence. He described the allegations of Tsarnaev’s participation in the bombing as “kind of a blindside.”
“This whole event, it just seems like something happened to him in the past six months that led to this,” said Tsou. “I do, obviously, as of right now, kind of wish that I kept in contact with him, because, I don’t know it’s really just not Jahar’s personality to do this. I feel like I — in my head, I feel like I know him very well. It’s just a blindsiding feeling.”
Indeed, Tsou said many who were on the wrestling team with Tsarnaev were in disbelief about his alleged involvement in the bombing. He described them as “shocked.”
“I still am kind of skeptical in how far he has gone in terms of this whole situation,” Tsou said. “With the amount of evidence that’s been piling up, it’s kind of unquestionable, but there’s still a part of me that hopes that maybe one or two bad things just happened and it just cascaded.”