One was a boxer, one a wrestler. One favored alligator shoes and fancy shirts, the other wore jeans, button-ups and T-shirts.
The younger one — the one their father described as “like an angel” — gathered around him a group of friends so loyal that more than one said they would testify for him, if it came to that.
The older one, who friends and family members said exerted a strong influence on his younger sibling, once told a photographer, “I don’t have a single American friend. I don’t understand them.”
A kaleidoscope of images, adjectives and anecdotes tumbled forth on Friday to describe Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, the two brothers suspected of carrying out the bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and gravely injured more than 170.
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What no one who knew them could say was why the men, immigrants of Chechen heritage, would set off bombs among innocent people.
The Tsarnaevs came with their family to the United States almost a decade ago, fleeing Russia, according to their father. Tamerlan, who died early Friday after a shootout with law-enforcement officers, was 15 at the time. Dzhokhar, who was captured late Friday, was 8.
In the U.S., they took up lives familiar to every new immigrant, gradually adapting to a new culture, a new language, new schools and new friends.
Dzhokhar was liked and respected by classmates at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.
A talented wrestler, he was listed as a Greater Boston League Winter All-Star.
He is enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, an hour’s drive south of Boston.
But while life seemed easy for Dzhokhar, for Tamerlan it seemed more fraught.
A promising boxer, he fought in the Golden Gloves National Tournament in 2009, and he was noticed by a young photographer, Johannes Hirn, who took him as a subject for an assignment in a photojournalism class at Boston University. “There are no values anymore,” Tamerlan said in the essay. “People can’t control themselves.”
Anzor Tsarnaev, the brothers’ father, who returned to Russia about a year ago, said in a telephone interview that his older son was hoping to become a U.S. citizen — Dzhokhar became a naturalized citizen Sept. 11, 2012, but Tamerlan still held a green card — but that a 2009 domestic-violence complaint involving a former girlfriend was standing in his way.
Tamerlan, who had a wife and young daughter, dropped out after studying accounting at Bunker Hill Community College for just three semesters.
Yet Dzhokhar admired and emulated his older brother, some classmates said, to a degree that in hindsight seemed worrisome.
Dzhokhar’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, of Montgomery Village, Md., spoke of the influence his older brother had over him, saying of Tamerlan, “He could manipulate him.”
Tsarni, 42, said he was ashamed of what his nephews were suspected of having done. “I never imagined that the children of my brother would be associated with that,” he said.
“Somebody radicalized them, but it’s not my brother, who spent his life bringing bread to their table, fixing cars,” Tsarni said.
Tsarnaev, the father, said Tamerlan would take his younger brother to Friday prayer but dismissed the idea that Dzhokhar had become devout, saying they sometimes caught him smoking cigarettes.
“Dhzokhar listened to Tamerlan, of course, he also listened to us,” he said. “From childhood it was that way. He had his own head on his shoulders; he was a very gifted person. He had a gift of kindness, calmness, fairness — you understand, goodness? For him to do what they’re saying, it doesn’t, it doesn’t fit him at all; it is not possible. Not at all.”
Material from McClatchy Newspapers and The Associated Press is included in this report.