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Monday, April 22, 2013

Robin Responds To Questions After Becoming Part Of Story

Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev (left) and Here & Now host Robin Young's nephew are pictured in a Cambridge Rindge and Latin graduation photo. Tsarnaev has been identified as the surviving suspect in the marathon bombings. (Courtesy: Robin Young)

Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev (left) and Here & Now host Robin Young’s nephew, Zolan, (right) are pictured in a Cambridge Rindge and Latin graduation photo. Tsarnaev has been identified as the surviving suspect in the marathon bombings. (Courtesy: Robin Young)

Many listeners have thanked us for our coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and Friday’s manhunt.

Many people responded to my interview with my nephew, Zolan. In high school, he knew one of the accused bombers, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

In addition to the thanks, we’ve also received a number of good questions.

As a journalist, should I have disclosed a personal connection to a story?

I actually have to disclose that connection.

Should we have put Zolan on the air, or his graduation picture on the website?

What Zolan did was write a new narrative. A frightening one. One not so easy to spot.

The pictures were on social media and being passed around. We wanted them labeled correctly. And Zolan wanted to speak out to correct false reports.

Early reporting described both brothers as disaffected immigrants, who attended a prestigious academy in Cambridge.

Zolan knew that Dzhokhar had been a popular, outgoing kid. He attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin, a scrappy, public high school with many children of immigrants and more students living in public housing than in the homes of Harvard professors.

Both he and I were immediately overwhelmed with interview requests from around the world.

It was a good lesson for Zolan, who’s studying journalism in college: What happens when you’re holding the one puzzle part that everyone wants?

We each did a few phone interviews and then I had to get to work, and so did he. He’s an intern at the Boston Globe. He said, “I got the story out, now I have to go write one.”

Other students and teachers who knew Dzhokhar also came forward.

College students at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth said they joked Thursday night about how much Suspect No. 2 looked like Dzhokhar. But it was so inconceivable that they never called police.

Zolan didn’t see the FBI pictures until Friday, but his fellow high school students called in when they saw the photos Thursday.

I found myself looking at other pictures this weekend, photos from a great pre-prom party that we had back in 2011.

The kids posed for pictures before boarding a trolley they rented. Dzhokhar was at the center of a scrum of boys in tuxedos.

People don’t want to hear that Dzhokhar was such a popular kid, and I understand that.

What he’s accused of is monstrous. Evil. And we want that person to fit the narrative of loner. Outcast.

What Zolan did was write a new narrative. A frightening one. One not so easy to spot.

One of my favorite photos from that 2011 party is of parents and relatives waving in the street as the trolley made its way down our old, narrow street. We were as teary-eyed as adults always are at prom, who know something is ending.

Then I also remembered that Dzhokhar didn’t take the trolley. He had his car.

Maybe he was already traveling a path away from his high school friends.


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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