Youssef Eddafali says he first met Dzhokhar “Jahar” Tsarnaev in seventh grade, but it wasn’t until the classmates met again in high school that they really became friends.
In an essay for Boston Globe Magazine, Eddafali explains how as a teen he bonded with Tsarnaev, who was a year ahead of him at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, over the stresses of balancing their home lives in Muslim households with their “American lives.”
“The truth is, Jahar and I had a lot in common,” he wrote of his friend who was convicted in 2015 and sentenced to death for killing four people and injuring hundreds of others in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and its aftermath. “Until we didn’t.”
Eddafali described how he and Tsarnaev shared the challenge of “maintaining separate Muslim and American lives,” such as when they both had to fast during Ramadan while participating in grueling workouts on high school sports teams.
“We were shamed just for being Muslim by strangers, the media, and even some of our peers, just as our Muslim families shamed us when we were caught committing a sin,” he said. “Jahar and I shared countless hours toking herb, hanging out, and hitting social events. We lived near each other, and often walked home together from parties. We’d hit Cambridge Street, dap each other up with a handclap and bro hug, then head off to our Muslim lives.”
Eddafali said in the months after the bombings, he entered a “downward spiral of addiction, insomnia, severe stomach pains, and depression” as he grappled with the acts committed by his friend.
“Jahar left behind an ocean of pain that is still washing across my city, and my country, sowing hatred and division between people who hardly know each other’s lived reality,” he wrote. “Jahar wounded those he grew up with as well as millions who practice a religion he perverted with his crime. He made suspects of everyone who knew him. Jahar put our safety and freedom in direct peril. Cambridge gave way to the real world, a place where I found myself feeling clueless.”
Unable to focus on his studies at Bentley University, Eddafali took an academic leave.
His classmate’s crimes still haunt him, he wrote.
“I can’t claim to know why Jahar took the murderous path he did, although I spent years lying awake at night tortured by these thoughts, searching every corner of my brain for clues.”
According to Globe Magazine, Eddafali now lives in the Boston area where he is writing a memoir about his experience growing up as a Muslim immigrant in the United States.
Read his full account in the magazine.