Bombing suspect attended UMass Dartmouth, where he spent Wednesday; friend shocked he could have any link to bombing

DARTMOUTH—The UMass Dartmouth campus closed abruptly early this morning after school officials realized the younger of the two men authorities said were responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing is a student there. The campus remained on lockdown this afternoon, with armed police blocking the main entrance.

The shutdown was staggered – first the dorm, and then the whole campus. Students living on campus were evacuated to Dartmouth High School.

The student, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, is the subject of an intense manhunt; his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed early this morning in a shootout with police.

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had passed an apparently normal day at the school Wednesday, according to a UMass official, working out at the gym, then sleeping in his single-unit room at the Pine Dale Hall dorm that night, while law enforcement officials were frantically scanning photos and video trying to identify him and his brother.

School officials know he was there Wednesday because of card swipes, but it was not clear if he had been there earlier. He was described as good, typical student who played intramural soccer.

A student, who didn’t want to be identified, said she saw Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at a party Wednesday night that was attended by some of his friends with whom he played intramural soccer.

“He was just relaxed,” she said.

On its webpage today, the school posted a stark message: “UMass Dartmouth has learned that a person being sought in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing has been identified as a student registered at UMass Dartmouth. The campus is closed. Individuals on campus should shelter in place unless instructed otherwise.”

Early this afternoon, three black helicopters landed at the main entrance, carrying about a dozen armed police officers who ran into campus. Two UHaul trucks arrived a short time later and drove onto campus. Around 3:30 p.m., 11 State Police cruisers with lights blaring just blasted through the main campus entrance, followed by a convoy of SUVs carrying personnel wearing military fatigues.

A handful of students milled about the front entrance, watching police come and go.

In a phone interview, Pamala Rolon, 22, a UMass Dartmouth senior and a resident assistant at the Pine Dale Hall dorms, where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lived, said she has known him for the past year and finds it incredible that he played any role in the bombing.

“He studied. We hung out with me and my friends,” she said this morning. “I’m in shock.”

Rolon said when she returned from class Thursday afternoon, she and her friends watched the television news broadcast showing the images of the suspects, including one that she did think looked faintly like the sophomore student she knew on campus.

“We made a joke like – that could be Dzhokhar,” she said. “But then we thought it just couldn’t be him. Dzhokhar? Never.”

Rolon said he studied marine biology, and was quite studious. He had not been seen on campus over the past two weeks, she said, but she didn’t think much about it because everyone was busy with tests and studying.

Rolon said she finds it impossible to believe he was involved in any zealous religious or political cause, or would turn to violence.

“I think he’s Muslim, but not so religious,” she said. “He’s a normal city kid.”

She also said that he did not talk about Russian or international politics.

“He never said anything about Russia versus the United States,” she added.

She said Dzhokhar Tsarnaev dressed typically in sweaters and jeans and fit in easily on campus. She said even though she knew he came from Russia, he spoke English with hardly any trace of an accent. She said the sophomore had one roommate, but she declined to release the student’s name. Rolon said she never met his family.

Chris Baratta, 22, a senior nursing student from Acton, lives across the street from campus. He played intramural soccer against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev last year, but said nothing unusual stood out about him.

“You just sign up and make your own team, and whoever plays, plays,” he said.

He said friends of his smoked marijuana with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but nothing stood out about the student. “He was just an average kid,” he said. “Kind of quiet.”

Katie Horan, a sophomore at UMass-Dartmouth who lives in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s dorm, said the alarm went off around 7:45 a.m. telling everyone in the building to evacuate.

“What’s going on?” she said as the students from Pine Dale dormitory emptied the building, unsure of why they had to leave.

She said two hours later, top school officials announced a total evacuation of the campus, and they learned officially that it was because a student was linked to the marathon bombing.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev attended Bunker Hill Community College, said Patricia Brady, a spokeswoman.

Tamerlan was a part-time student, taking accounting classes, for three semesters: fall 2006, spring 2007, and fall 2008.