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Boston bombings: Students at suspect's campus express shock, relief

April 21, 2013|By Michael J. Mishak
  • University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth students stand outside the Pine Dale Hall dormitory where Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lived. Students were evacuated from the campus Friday during the search for Tsarnaev. Life was returning to normal on the campus Sunday.
University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth students stand outside the Pine… (Peter Pereira / Associated…)

DARTMOUTH, Mass. -- Life slowly trickled back Sunday to the campus of the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, where Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was enrolled.

The school reopened at noon after it had been evacuated Friday shortly after officials learned of Tsarnaev’s possible involvement. A sign that read “Welcome Families” was displayed at the university entrance. One by one, students returned to their dorms carrying toiletries and other items.

A couple of dozen students and parents turned out to watch UMass defeat Western Connecticut in a baseball game, but the campus was mostly quiet, with few people milling about. Two students played tennis while another ran laps around the track. Two students wearing American flags as capes walked the circular drive that rings the campus.

University police cruisers with flashing lights guarded each driveway to the dorm complex where Tsarnaev lived. The building is next to campus police headquarters.

In interviews, students expressed joy at being able to return to the school but shock at the involvement of one of their classmates in the bombing investigation.

Amanda Jones and Claire Buttkis, roommates and sophomores majoring in graphic design, live in the Pine Dale Hall dormitory, where Tsarnaev lived. Neither knew him. “We didn’t really believe it at first,” Jones said. “It’s scary to think he lived here.”

The two described being abruptly awakened by a fire alarm Friday morning and leaving their dorm in pajamas and lugging shower gear. Barred from returning to their rooms, they stayed with Buttkis’ family in Franklin. When they watched the story unfold on cable news, Jones said, “I was sick to my stomach. It hit me way later in the day what was really going on.”

They were happy to be back on campus Sunday.

“I’d rather get things back to normal,” Buttkis said. “We only have a week and a half left.”

Rebecca Kelly and Colleen Reynolds, both freshmen, agreed.

“Once they caught him on Friday, I was like, ‘Get me back to school,’ ” Kelly said.

The two did laundry and attended a tennis match and baseball game Sunday.

“It was nice to see people getting right back into their normal routine,” Kelly said.

The school is making clergy and counselors available to meet with students. Students said the school had planned an ice cream social for Sunday night  to welcome them back.

Others had a more tumultuous weekend.

After the evacuation, Amanda Robinson, Marissa Collins and Caroline Corcoran – all freshmen – stayed with friends at an apartment complex in nearby New Bedford. To their surprise, they watched from the window Friday as authorities  descended on the complex, police wearing military fatigues and bullet resistant vests and brandishing assault weapons.

Pictures on their iPhones captured the scene: an armored state police truck, officers ducking behind cars with their weapons drawn.

“We left campus to be safe and we ended up getting caught in the middle of this,” Collins said, pointing to the photos.

Three people were taken out in handcuffs and put into separate police cars, the students said.

(On Sunday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it had arrested two foreign nationals in New Bedford on Saturday for immigration violations. A law enforcement source said they were two of the three students questioned by FBI agents on Friday about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

(The official said that investigators know the three were social acquaintances of Tsarnaev, but they don’t know whether they have any connection to the bombings.)

Collins said her friend met Tsarnaev at a party the week before the bombing. “She thought he was completely normal, like any other person” she said.

“It’s scary just knowing that you could be living next to a terrorist.”

ALSO:

Blast site in heart of Boston getting back to normal

Video said to show suspect setting backpack down

Boston plays, prays and remembers on Sunday of renewal

michael.mishak@latimes.com

Twitter: @mjmishak

Richard A. Serrano and Brian Bennett in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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