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How an ‘All-American’ girl met and married Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Katherine Russell Tsarnaev, centre, wife of killed Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, exits a car at the home of her parents in North Kingstown, R.I., April 21, 2013.

Katie Zezima/AP

Katherine Russell was a young college student when friends introduced her to a young man named Tamerlan Tsarnaev at a Boston nightclub. They had, according to the woman's lawyer, a normal courtship – dating on and off before marrying in 2009 or 2010 and settling at Mr. Tsarnaev's family home in Cambridge, Massachussets.

Their home life appeared normal too, if only a bit unconventional, Ms. Russell's lawyer Amato DeLuca said, with Ms. Russell working 70 to 80 hours a week as a home health-care aide while Mr. Tsarnaev, a former boxer and college dropout, stayed at home caring for their toddler daughter.

In fact, there was no indication that anything was amiss until earlier this week, Mr. DeLuca said, when Ms. Russell turned on the television to learn that her 26-year-old husband, along with his 19-year-old brother Dzhokhar, were suspected of planting explosives near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring over 170.

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Tamerlan was killed after a police shootout early Friday, and Dzhokhar remains hospitalized after he was arrested the same day.

"When this allegedly was going on, she was working, and had been working all week to support her family," Mr. DeLuca said.

Federal authorities have since asked to speak with Ms. Russell, who, according to Mr. DeLuca, had no idea of any alleged terror plans.

Friends who knew Ms. Russell growing up are struggling to piece together how the "all-American girl" raised by a Christian doctor and nurse in Rhode Island somehow found herself tangled up with an alleged terrorist.

As a high school student, Ms. Russell was known to her friends as "Katie," and dreamed of joining the Peace Corps, a friend told The Daily Mail.

High school yearbook photos show a smiling Ms. Russell with her long dark hair flowing and dressed in trendy clothing. Another yearbook image shows her grinning as one of dozens of members of the school's dance team.

But some time after meeting Mr. Tsarnaev, friends told The Daily Mail Ms. Russell converted to Islam and stopped attending college.

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"She was just this All-American girl who was brainwashed by her super-religious husband," a friend is quoted as saying.

"Her parents are nice people, her sisters are great girls. But she met this guy, I guess, and everything changed," a former classmate said.

Neighbours of Ms. Russell's parents in Rhode Island told reporters that recently, they'd begun to see the young woman dressed in loose, flowing Muslim garb and a hijab covering her dark hair.

Another neighbour told the New York Daily News that she would see Mr. Tsarnaev at the parents' home occasionally, but that she didn't notice anything unusual about him. "Everything looked very peaceful," she said of the family.

Early Friday, Ms. Russell's parents released a statement to reporters saying they were "sickened" by the news that Mr. Tsarnaev may have been involved in the bombings.

"Our daughter has lost her husband today, the father of her child," the statement read. "We cannot begin to comprehend how this horrible tragedy occurred, in the aftermath of the Patriots' Day horror we know that we never really knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev."

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With reports from The Associated Press

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About the Author
National Food Reporter

Ann Hui is the national food reporter at The Globe and Mail. Previously, she worked as a national reporter and homepage editor for theglobeandmail.com and an online editor in News. More

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