Katherine Russell Tsarnaev: From All-American Girl to Bomber's Wife

Long before she was thrust into the spotlight, Katherine's changing behavior worried family and friends

Photo: William Farrington/Polaris

Katherine Russell was a typical college student before she met Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

The daughter of an emergency room doctor, Katie, as she was called, grew up in a Christian household in North Kingstown, R.I., graduated at the top of her class at her high school in 2007, and said in her yearbook she wanted to go into the Peace Corps.

“The reason why I remember her is she was very nice and very smart,” her North Kingstown High art teacher, Amos Trout Paine, tells the Associated Press. “She was ready to learn.”

She is now known as the Boston Marathon bomber‘s widow.

Her husband, 26, and his younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, are suspected in the blasts that killed three people and injured hundreds. The subsequent manhunt for the perpetrators left a university policeman dead, Tamerlan killed, and Dzhokhar captured and charged.

Katie Russell, 24, now going by Katherine Tsarnaev, and her young daughter have retreated to Katherine’s childhood home. She has not yet spoken with federal authorities, who want to question her about her husband’s activities. But Tuesday she released a statement through her lawyers.

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“The injuries and loss of life – to people who came to celebrate a race and a holiday – has caused profound distress and sorrow to Katie and her family. The reports of involvement by her husband and brother-in-law came as an absolute shock to them all,” the statement read.

“She has spent a lot of time crying,” says a family source. “As far as I know, Katie wasn’t aware of what he was up to.”

After high school, Katherine went to Suffolk University in Boston, a 90-minute drive north, and within a few years her friends and family were startled by a change in her behavior.

“She stopped seeing a lot of her friends and cut them off,” says the family source. “She became very withdrawn and quiet. That took away a lot of what we knew of her.”

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Katherine was at a nightclub when one of her girlfriends introduced her to Tsarnaev, then a student at Bunker Hill Community College, her lawyer, Amato DeLuca tells the Associated Press.

“They went out for a while, and then they stopped and then they went out again,” DeLuca said.

Katherine converted to Islam. And on June 21, 2010, they married at a ceremony performed by Imam Taalib Mahdee, of Masjid al Qur’aan, in Boston’s Dorchester area, according to the marriage certificate.

Suffolk University records show she dropped out that same year. The couple had a daughter – the exact date of birth is not known – and moved in with Tsarnaev’s parents and his brother, according to DeLuca, who notes that Katherine rarely saw the brother because he was in the dorms at college.

After the birth of Zahara, Katherine worked long hours as a home health care aide. “She really loved the work,” says the family source. “I think it was the one thing she could do separately from him.” While she worked, Tamerlan would take care of their daughter.

Her attorney insists that she was not aware of her husband’s alleged plans, and is devastated by the terrorist attack.

“As a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife, Katie deeply mourns the pain and loss to innocent victims – students, law enforcement, families and our community. In the aftermath of this tragedy, she, her daughter and her family are trying to come to terms with these events,” concludes the statement from DeLuca released Tuesday.

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