At UMass Dartmouth, bombing suspect described as 'calm kid'

Matt Tota%%More Content Now News
Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pictured front row, far left, with teammates on a UMass Dartmouth intramural soccer team. Courtesy photo

UMass Dartmouth was evacuated Friday after shocked students learned that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a suspect on the run in the Boston Marathon bombing, attends the school and even played intramural soccer.

A campus-wide alert appeared on students’ phones of at 8:30 a.m., telling them that the campus was shutting down.

Badly wounded, Tsarnaev was captured Friday night as he hid in a boat in the backyard of a Watertown home.. Tsarnaev's brother, Tamerlan, 26, was killed druing an intense gunfight with an army of police officers in Watertown the night before..

A senior resident assistant at UMass Dartmouth, Elton John da Graca said he played eight or night games of soccer with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev last year.

"He’s an athletic kid," the 23-year-old New Bedford resident said. "He was a calm kid: you would never expect he’d be suspected of anything like this. He was one of those kids who didn’t speak much and never really bothered anyone."

The university’s congested classrooms and courtyards were eerily empty following the evacuation order, said da Graca.

The Torch, UMass Dartmouth's student-run weekly newspaper, reported that other students who knew Tsarnaev described him as "not very religious."

Da Graca said dozens of local and state police — many holding high-powered weapons — converged on the small South Coast school. At one point, he said, two helicopters were circling overhead.

A mundane spring semester morning took a confusing, shocking turn, as students found out through Facebook or Twitter that the university was now part of the investigation into the terrorist attack on Boston.

Students left as fast and as calmly as they could, daGraca said, although many were shaken by the news. The university announced Friday afternoon that it would be closed Saturday, too.

"People were freaking out," daGraca said. "I had some girl come to my apartment crying."

Tsarnaev reportedly was living in a suite in the Pine Dale building, located at the south end of the campus.

Michael Renda, a 22-year-old senior psychology major from Hopedale, and his three roommates were bewildered.

"It was crazy that he was around us," said Renda, "We even heard he swiped into the gym the day after the Marathon, just hanging out; it was weird. I was surprised no one recognized him."

When the evacuation order came, they grabbed some supplies and drove to a friend’s home off campus.

"It was a mass exodus," he said. "As I was driving off, armored SWAT vehicles were driving in."

"The Boston Marathon tragedy has touched our University in many ways," Chancellor Divina Grossman said in a statement. "On Tuesday, we drew strength from a campus vigil that attracted hundreds of people in remembrance of the victims, and today we learned that a suspect is one of our students."

Matt Tota can be reached at 508-634-7521 or mtota@wickedlocal.com. For news throughout the day, follow him on Twitter @MattTotaMDN.