He was widely described as a “good kid” by teachers, family and friends.
Now, Tsarnaev is on the run, described as “armed and dangerous” and suspected of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Two brothers, one now dead, one alive and at large. After hours of only grainy images of two men in baseball caps to go on, a portrait gradually started emerging of the men suspected in the attack.
Tsarnaev, 19, and his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed during a violent night in Cambridge, had been living together on Norfolk St in Cambridge. An uncle, Ruslan Tsarni of Montgomery Village, Maryland, said the men lived together near Boston and have been in the US for about a decade. They came from the Russian region near Chechnya, which has been plagued by an Islamic insurgency stemming from separatist wars.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s page on the Russian social networking site Vkontakte says he attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, graduating in 2011, the year he won the scholarship, which was celebrated with a reception at City Hall.
Before moving to the US, he attended School No 1 in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim republic in Russia’s North Caucasus that has become an epicentre of the Islamic insurgency that spilled over from Chechnya. On the site, he describes himself as speaking Chechen as well as English and Russian. His world view is described as “Islam” and he says his personal goal is “career and money”.
According to the website spotcrime.com, Tamerlan was arrested for domestic violence in Jul 2009, after assaulting his girlfriend.
He was an amateur boxer, listed as a competitor in a National Golden Gloves competition in 2009.
Larry Aaronson, a teacher at Ringe and Latin school, says not only did he know Dzhokhar, but he took photographs of him on the wrestling team. He wrote on Facebook: “I cannot believe he was capable of such a heinous crime and of so many murders. Truth be told he came from the war zone deep inside Chechnya.”
Friends described the younger brother as normal and never in trouble.
The 26-year-old older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police.
Both men were legal permanent residents of the US.
A woman identified by the New York Post as the brothers’ sister, spoke from her New Jersey home. Alina Tsarnaeva said she was shocked by their actions.
“They were great people. I never would have expected it.
“They are smart — I don’t know what’s gotten into them.”
But it appears Tamerlan became radicalised in recent months, lonely with only one American friend.
His brother seemed to have entirely immersed himself in American life.
One friend told CNN: “He is a normal kid, he parties, he sometimes smokes — if you know what I mean. He was as American as I am — he was born and raised here. This kid was a walking angel.”
Former wrestling coach Larry Aaronson told CNN: “There was nothing in his character, in his demeanour that said he would be capable of doing this.
“He was so grateful to be here, he was so grateful to be at the school. he was so grateful to be accepted. He was a lovely, lovely kid, an outstanding athlete and never a troublemaker. Last time I saw him I spoke to him in the street around Thanksgiving. I asked if he was still wrestling and he said he was burying himself in his studies.’