It’s rare that anyone catches a glimpse of Katherine Russell.
The 27-year-old widow of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev is seldom seen in public – and when she is, she never speaks.
Of all the people affected by the April 2013 bombing, Russell – who reverted to her maiden name after her husband’s death – remains one of the most enigmatic. Born to a Christian family, she became interested in Islam during high school. When she met Tsarnaev, the bubbly young girl who loved David Bowie changed. Katie Russell became Katherine Tsarnaeva, a studious, serious woman who seldom smiled and devoted herself to the Muslim faith.
Two years after the bombing that killed three and injured more than 260, the questions remain: What did Russell know?
Will She Be Charged?
One of Russell’s biggest fears has been that she will be charged in the bombing, a fear that her attorneys acknowledge. “If she had done something wrong, they would have charged her,” attorney Amato Deluca told The Providence Journal last month.
Added Deluca’s law partner, Miriam Weizenbaum, “She cooperated with the government. We met many times with the Terrorist Task Force and the FBI and answered all their questions. The only reason she didn’t testify in grand jury was because they wouldn’t give her immunity.”
It begs the question: Immunity from what? “The only concern I have is that there always can be prosecutorial overreach,” said Weizenbaum. “She’s young, she’s vulnerable and she’s just trying to live her life and raise her daughter.”
Her Short-Lived Family Reconciliation
After the bombing, Russell had nowhere to go. She and her then 2-year-old daughter, Zahara, moved in into her parents’ Rhode Island home. There, she lived with her father, Warren, and her mother, Judith. She began to spend time with her younger sisters, Anna and Rebecca. “They began to reconnect,” a relative tells PEOPLE. “For a while, everyone was happy.”
But there was one point of contention, and it was a major one. Katherine and her family had fundamentally different religious beliefs. (The Russell family is Christian.) “In the end, there were too many issues,” says the relative. “They just saw life differently. After a year, she decided to move out.”
Russell moved to New Jersey, where she moved in with Tamerlan’s sister Ailina.
Tamerlan and Katherine’s Troubled Relationship
In April, Russell’s mother testified that she and her husband were unhappy when Katherine began dating Tsarnaev after meeting him in a club, introduced by one of Katherine’s roommates.
“I got the idea that she really cared for him,” Judith Russell testified. “I invited him to a family meal, but he didn’t seem interested in getting to know us.” When Tamerlan did arrive, he was very late. “It wasn’t a very good way to start off,” Judith said.
Judith also testified that Katherine and Tamerlan broke up after he cheated on her – but soon reconciled. Judith felt that Tamerlan wasn’t the right man for her daughter, and that he was obsessed with boxing. “I didn’t really want her to be with him,” she said. “They weren’t really a good match.”
According to Judith, Tamerlan had one other obsession: his radicalized Muslim beliefs. “He would talk about it every time I saw him,” she testified.
Katherine’s circle of friends were also concerned. “Her friends didn’t like him,” Jesse Coyle, who dated Katherine’s best friend, told PEOPLE last year. “She still wanted to hang out with her friends, but he wasn’t letting her. All her friends told her to leave him, but she was hooked on him.”
Life in the Tsarnaev Home
So what was life like in the small Cambridge apartment where the Tsarnaevs lived? “Katie worked a lot, maybe 80 hours a week sometimes,” says a source close to her. During her off-hours, she would care for Zahara. “She loves that little girl,” says the source. “Adores her. Dotes on her.”
But there were issues in the home. Tamerlan was often aggressive. According to the source, he often left her out of the loop. “She had no idea how much money they had or how he was spending it,” says the source. “But she was trying to be submissive, doing what she thought was right. But she had no idea what he was up to.”
Even so, Russell did show signs of her husband’s radicalization. During the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a computer forensics expert testified that Russell’s computer showed several Google searches on the eternal rewards of dying as a martyr’s spouse.
Also in court, her high school friend testified about bizarre text messages she received from Russell after the bombing. “A lot more people are killed every day in Syria and other places,” she wrote. “Innocent people.”
Whatever her knowledge of the events, Russell is planning for her future. “She just wants to live a quiet life,” says the source. “She wants to raise her daughter and live quietly, and put this all behind her.”
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