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‘There’s a strong consensus he was pretty normal’

I have two family friends – Sam and Nathan Greenberg – who went to high school with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old Boston Marathon bombing suspect. They both say they can’t square the terror he is accused of sowing this week with the boy they knew from sports and just around school.

“He was really nice,” Sam Greenberg, now a junior at Harvard, told me over the phone. Sam played junior varsity soccer with Tsarnaev for a year and also hung out with him occasionally in the athletic area after school. “He was pretty quiet. Didn’t have a ton to say but was very normal, seemed like a nice kid.”

Sam remembers that Tsarnaev had plenty of friends. “I don’t know about close friends, but he was friendly with a lot of people,” Sam said. “It feels really weird, knowing now that he did this, and talking to my friends so far who knew him, some of them better than I did, there’s a strong consensus he was pretty normal.”

Sam said that “everybody knew he was from Russia or somewhere around there,” and that Tsarnaev had an accent, but “not super strong.” He spoke English well, and, at the time, went by the name Jahar. He was the opposite of a loner. Greenberg remembers him from the 2008-09 school year; he’s not sure whether Tsarnaev came to Rindge and Latin that year, or earlier.

Nathan Greenberg said, “I just remember seeing him on the wrestling team, just one of the normal kids. He seemed like a nice guy. He hung out with people who I knew as nice people.”

Neither Sam nor Nathan heard Dzhokhar Tsarnaev mention his older brother, Tamerlan, the 26-year-old former Bunker Hill Community College student and boxer who died Thursday night after a shootout with police, and who appears to have been more radicalized. Just knowing Dzhokhar, Nathan said about this week’s violence, “I just don’t get it at all.”

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