Katherine Russell Tsarnaev & the Boston Marathon Bombings: Did She Know?

Katherine Russell Tsarnaev & the Boston Marathon Bombings: Did She Know?
Katherine Russell Tsarnaev

It’s been over a week since the bombings at the Boston Marathon, and I can’t stop googling one name: Katherine Russell, the widow of suspected terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev. I’m searching for information about this young woman because I’m eager to know what, if anything, she knew about her husband’s activities leading up to April 15.

Here’s what I’ve found, according to online news reports, which may or may not be accurate:

*  Katie and Tamerlan were introduced at a nightclub while Katie was attending Suffolk University in Boston.

*  She’s the daughter of an Emergency Room doctor and nurse and grew up in Rhode Island.

*  Katie’s former college roommates describe Tamerlan as brutish and manipulative, saying he called Katie a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

*  Tamerlan had a history of violence against women; he was detained in 2009 for slapping his girlfriend at the time (not Katie).

*  Katie got pregnant during her senior year and she and Tamerlan married in 2010. They have a daughter, Zahara, who is around 3.

*  Katie converted to Islam and began wearing traditional Muslim dress, including the hijab.

*  Katie worked 70 to 80 hours as a home health care aide, while Tamerlan stayed with his daughter.

* In 2007, Katie (18 at the time) was arrested for stealing $67 worth of clothing from an Old Navy store in Warwick, Rhode Island. She eventually paid a $200 fine and did community service. At the time of the arrest, she allegedly told officers she was married, even though she was still living with her parents.

None of this tells me much about her. In fact, it barely skims the surface. I want to know why she was drawn to Tamerlan. I want to know why she converted. And of course, I want to know if she was aware of his plans. But as I dig deeper into Katie’s story, another question comes to mind, which is, how well do we really know our spouses?

Back in 1986, my mom probably thought she knew my dad. They’d been married for around 15 years. But one day, after he returned from a trip to Florida, they exchanged harsh words and suddenly, he was gone. Shortly after, we discovered that his decision to leave had been planned out months beforehand and everything he wanted to take with him -- money, work files, clothes, etc. -- had already been removed from our home. Overnight, her life -- and subsequently all of our lives -- changed completely.

Did my mom know? Should she have known?

But let’s keep things in perspective. Abandonment is one thing; murdering men, women and children at a public event in a major American city is quite another. Katie claims her husband often spoke Russian at home, a language she didn’t understand. But what about the conversations she had with him in English? What about the way he interacted with their daughter? So far investigators have found that Tamerlan and his brother, Dzhokhar, were in possession of a gun, pipe bombs, explosives, ammunition, pressure cookers, BBs, and small nails. Did she really not see any of that?

For some weird reason I don’t understand, I have this strong desire to say she knew. I have this need to see her as weak, manipulated and somehow guilty by association. But I remember not too long ago, when my husband and I were living with our daughter in Boston and he was a medical resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the same hospital where Dzhokhar is now recovering. He was working long, long hours and we didn’t see each other very often. During those years, I could have led an entirely separate life and kept it concealed from him forever. Is that what was going on here?

In the upcoming days and weeks, I will continue to search for information about Katherine Russell. I will look for reasons why a seemingly typical American college student ended up with one of our nation’s most brutal terrorists. And I will try to keep an open mind about her involvement, understanding that there are only two people who really knew their relationship: Katie, the girl next door and Tamerlan, a deceased man accused, and likely guilty, of doing the unthinkable.

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