He Did It?

05.02.13

With Friends Like Dzhokhar…

Three guys, a backpack, and the Boston Marathon bombing. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s classmates figured out he was being hunted. Then they watched a movie in his room—and destroyed evidence.

Schoolchildren pedaled their bikes past the front yard of 69A Carriage Drive, the apartment where two of the three suspects charged Wednesday for trying to protect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lived before their dramatic arrest a week earlier.

Oblivious to the surrounding media frenzy and security guard manning the front door, the children kicked a soccer ball on the lawn.

Across the street, neighbors were still shocked that their peaceful cookie-cutter neighborhood in New Bedford, Massachusetts, had been swarmed by FBI agents and SWAT teams just a few days earlier.

“We are a little bit afraid,” Rose, an elderly resident who declined to give her last name, told The Daily Beast.

She strolls down Carriage Drive every night with her friend Karen.

After all the commotion, she feels safe walking again only now, knowing the suspects—University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth students Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov—are gone.

Debbie, who lives close to the Russian-speaking Kazakhs, shook her head in exasperation as she watched camera crews set up for the 5 o’clock news.

“Enough is enough,” she said.

The sentiment echoed from New Bedford to UMass, Dartmouth, where students said they were just trying to celebrate the last day of classes.

The campus was relatively calm Wednesday evening, considering the frenzy of the last few weeks, starting with a massive manhunt that forced the students to evacuate the school for three days.

But the hunt for Tsarnaev was just the beginning of the college’s saga, as the names of three more students were released Wednesday, when they were charged in a Boston federal court with destroying evidence, obstruction of justice, and giving false statements to the FBI.

Kadyrbayev, 19,  and Tazhayakov, 20, are accused of hiding Tsarnaev’s backpack—which was filled with emptied-out fireworks, Vaseline, and homework assignments—as well as his laptop, to protect their friend from authorities.

If convicted, they would face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine each. They have been in jail since last week, ostensibly for violating their student visas by not attending class at UMass, Dartmouth.

Video screenshot

The suspects' lawyer declares their innocence.

A short while later, they heard back from him. ‘Lol,’ Tsarnaev wrote in a text message.

The third suspect, 19-year-old Robel Phillipos, was charged with making false statements to FBI agents about the destruction of evidence. He faces up to eight years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  

Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov, Phillipos, and Tsarnaev all started as freshmen in the fall of 2011. But Phillipos dropped out and returned to Cambridge, where he and Tsarnaev attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school. A university spokesman said Kadyrbayev is not currently enrolled, and that Tazhayakov has been suspended from school while the court case is pending.

It seems that the three suspects initially had no idea of their friend’s alleged plot, but started to put together the pieces when photos of the Tsarnaev brothers were broadcast on the news after the bombings.

According to the criminal complaint, Kadyrbayev texted the younger Tsarnaev after turning on the TV, noting that Suspect No. 2—sporting a familiar shaggy haircut and white baseball cap—looked a lot like his friend.

Panicked and confused, Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov, and Phillipos headed to Pine Dale Hall, Tsarnaev’s dormitory, where they apparently spent some time watching a movie in his room and noticed a backpack containing fireworks that had been opened and emptied of powder.

According to the complaint, Kadyrbayev knew when he saw the contents of the backpack that Tsarnaev was likely the suspect. But instead of calling the police, he—along with Tazhayakov and Phillipos—decided to remove the backpack from the room to protect Tsarnaev.

A short while later, they heard back from him.

“Lol,” Tsarnaev wrote in a text message.

“You better not text me,” he said, and added, “Come to my room and take whatever you want.”

Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov, and Phillipos took Tsarnaev’s laptop along with the backpack and drove back to their apartment in New Bedford.

Around 10 p.m. that night, Kadyrbayev walked two blocks down his quiet, tree-lined street and tossed the evidence in the neighborhood Dumpster.

All three had been interviewed by the FBI repeatedly before they were arrested.

Just one night before Tsarnaev became the target of one of the largest manhunts in American history, he had been hanging out at 69A Carriage Drive until around midnight.

The next day at 4 p.m., about an hour before his face was plastered on the front pages of newspapers around the world, Tsarnaev dropped Tazhayakov at his New Bedford apartment after class and drove off.

It may have been the last time Tazhayakov would ever see his friend.

Weeks later, on Wednesday at UMass, Dartmouth, residents of Pine Dale Hall, a four-story cement complex, were packing their cars and heading out to parties on the last day of classes.

Students declined to speak to The Daily Beast when asked if they knew any of the suspects.

At the entrance to the residence, someone had scrawled in sidewalk chalk, “I love Pine Dale,” in support of their now infamous dorm.

Across campus, Archie, a sophomore who declined to give his last name, said he had lived with Tsarnaev in Maple Ridge Hall during his freshman year. He said he never met Tsarnaev, but knew people who partied with him.

“No one could say a bad thing about him,” he said, and added that students were ready to move past the events that had thrust their school into the spotlight. “There are more imminent things to focus on than this.”

Leanne Poirier, the managing editor of the campus newspaper, The Torch, said she had interviewed dozens of students who knew Tsarnaev, none of whom had anything negative to say about him.

She added that students’ anger was directed more toward the FBI agents who some students said were randomly interrogating them.

A few hours after Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov were formally charged, their neighbor Rose nodded her head toward the windows with blinds drawn at 69A Carriage Drive. “People are going to be moving in soon,” she said. “Who the hell wants to live there?”

Amanda Robinson, a freshman at UMass, Dartmouth, was setting up for a friend’s surprise birthday party in an apartment up the street.

“It’s like nothing ever happened,” she said as she taped a streamer above the doorway. “UMass, Dartmouth, is such a random place. Out of every school, I can’t believe Tsarnaev went to ours.”