Months Before Marathon Bombing, Suspect Worked as Harvard Lifeguard

Nine Former Classmates and Coworkers Remember Suspected Terrorist’s High School Years

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

This photo released Friday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows a suspect that officials identified as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, being sought by police in the Boston Marathon bombings Monday.

UPDATED: April 20, 2013, at 5:44 a.m.

While on breaks from his shifts as a lifeguard at the Malkin Athletic Center pool, Chris Finlay rarely chatted with his lanky teenaged coworker about anything other than pool operations.

But one day, Finlay decided to break the ice. He asked his fellow lifeguard, a Chechnyan ethnic who had emigrated to the United States from Kyrgyzstan a decade before, what he thought about the notoriously toxic relations between Russians and Chechnyans.

On this topic, the usually shy high schooler was outspoken.

“He spoke with a bit of a hatred toward Russia,” Finlay recalled of their conversation. “There was certainly some anger in him.”


There is no evidence to suggest that Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, the captured suspect that police believe to be responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings, may have been motivated in any way by Chechnyan political considerations for his alleged attack. But Finlay reflects on the conversation now as a hint that his former coworker’s broader outlook may have been troubled.

Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, is believed today to be a terrorist, but just months ago he was a lifeguard working at a Harvard pool and a high school senior attending the public school Cambridge Rindge and Latin, just blocks from Harvard.

On Friday, as police lights flashed through their shuttered windows, Tsarnaev’s former coworkers and classmates were left to ponder an unsettling question: how could they reconcile the soft-spoken teenager they had known with the suspected terrorist whose flight left the greater Boston area in a state of fear-ridden lockdown for a full day?


Tsarnaev is suspected to have planted one of the two bombs that killed three people and injured 176 at the Boston Marathon Monday. The search for Tsarnaev and his brother, the other man identified Thursday as a suspect in the bombing, developed into a police chase across Cambridge and Watertown late Thursday night that left an MIT policeman dead and a transit officer wounded. Local authorities did not capture Tsarnaev until late Friday evening, leaving millions of Boston residents cooped up in their homes while police scoured the streets throughout the day.

But during their lifeguarding days, Finlay did not think that Tsarnaev’s words about Russia suggested an unusually violent or dangerous broader outlook. Finlay wrote them off to his coworker’s youth and what he presumed had been a difficult childhood for Tsarnaev as a young immigrant.

He was also reassured by the fact that when he asked Tsarnaev about his feelings on the U.S., he received a much less disconcerting answer.

“I don’t recall him saying that he loved it, but he certainly didn’t say that he hated it,” said Finlay, who added that the Tsarnaev seemed “indifferent” to but not “disgruntled” with America.

Mostly, Finlay said, Tsarnaev behaved like a typical Cambridge teen. During high school Tsarnaev was employed by the University, working intermittently as a lifeguard as recently as the summer of 2012, a Harvard official told The Crimson.

“He seemed like a regular high school kid, just trying make a buck after class,” Finlay said. “He sat in the chair, guarded people, did his job.”


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