The Tsarnaev brothers, now forever linked in the Boston Marathon bombing, in some ways seemed as different as siblings could be. But whatever drove them to allegedly set off two deadly pressure-cooker bombs, their uncle is certain that the younger sibling, Dzhokhar, was not the one pulling the strings.
“He’s not been understanding anything. He’s a 19-year-old boy,” Ruslan Tsarni said of his brother’s youngest child, who was clinging to life in a Boston hospital after a gun battle with police.
“He’s been absolutely wasted by his older brother. I mean, he used him. He used him for whatever he’s done. For what we see they’ve done, OK?”
Criminologist Professor James Alan Fox said the uncle’s intuition was justified. In cases like this, he said, it was highly unusual for the younger participant – in this case, a brother – to be the leader.
“I would be surprised,” said Prof Fox, the Lipman professor of criminology, law and public policy at Boston’s Northeastern University. “Very surprised.”
When the bullets began flying on Thursday night and 26-year-old Tamerlan went down, his younger brother ran him over – dragging him for about 30ft – before ditching the car and fleeing on foot.
After a 24-hour manhunt that shut down most of the Boston metropolitan area, police cornered the gravely wounded Dzhokhar hiding in a boat in a back yard, only blocks from where his brother was taken.
The ethnic Chechen family came to the United States in 2002, after fleeing troubles in Kyrgyzstan and then Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim republic in Russia’s North Caucasus.
They settled in a working-class part of Cambridge, where their father, Anzor Tsarnaev, opened an car repair business. He returned to Dagestan about a year ago.
Luis Vasquez, a candidate for the Cambridge City Council, went to school with Tamerlan and later helped coach Dzhokhar’s school football team. With the father gone, Mr Vasquez said, the older brother assumed a kind of paternal role, at least where the girls in the family were concerned.
“He was very protective of his [younger] sister, Bella,” Mr Vasquez said. “He would keep an eye out, making sure she’s good, making sure she’s not having a hard time.”
Mr Vasquez attributed Tamerlan’s attitude to “his culture” and “what his family expected out of him”.
David Mijares, who trained in boxing with Tamerlan in school and later coached the younger brother in football, says his friend opened up about his hardships in Russia. He agreed that Tamerlan felt pressure to be the man of the house.
“He had to be a man at a very early age,” said Mr Mijares, who himself considered Tamerlan a mentor.
“That would be, in my opinion, a huge reason for who he was, all serious and no nonsense.”
John Pinto said the Tsarnaev brothers were frequent patrons at his Midwest Grill, a couple of blocks from their house. When they walked in, he said, Tamerlan was always in the lead.
“I think the big brother is more the command guy, boss,” Mr Pinto said.
Tamerlan preceded his brother at the prestigious Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, which counts celebrities Matt Damon and Ben Affleck among its alumni. But he does not appear to have been a standout student and athlete, whose reputation Dzhokhar would have felt pressure to live up to.
“To be perfectly honest, I did not know he had an older brother from the start,” said classmate Alexandros Stefanakis.