Globe Report: Boston Marathon Bomber Said He Heard Voices

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The Boston Globe dropped a hefty feature, in a creative but readable format, on Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev over the weekend. It focuses on the two brothers, the Tsarnaev family, and how their lives deteriorated before the bombing. The motive behind the bombing isn't truly discovered—although the big theory involved a vague poke at radical Islam, because the parents were practicing Muslims—but the Globe's research suggests that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had an unidentified mental illness.

At some time during or before 2008, Tamerlan had apparently told his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, that he felt like there was a struggle inside of him. His mother later mentioned it to Anna Nikaeva, a friend, but seemingly never took any further actions. From the report:

Except that he wasn’t. One day in 2008 when the two women were talking, Nikaeva told Zubeidat that she was very impressed with Tamerlan, who had worked for her during the past summer helping with some of her elderly clients. Zubeidat responded by confiding in Nikaeva.

“He had told his mother that he felt there were two people living inside of him,” said Nikaeva. “I told her, ‘You should get that checked out.’ But she just said, ‘No, he’s fine.’ She couldn’t accept the tiniest criticism of him. But obviously she was thinking about it enough that she brought it up.”


Zubeidat and Anzor Tsarnaev, the father, reportedly saw a psychiatrist, but Tamerlan reportedly didn't have his mental health checked out, even after he told his mother.

That incident occurred before Tamerlan had become more religious. Eventually, he started attending a local mosque after being urged by his mother. He met Donald Larking, another attendant, and again brought up the notion of something inside of him:

“He believed in majestic mind control, which is a way of breaking down a person and creating an alternative personality with which they must coexist,” explained Larking. “You can give a signal, a phrase or a gesture, and bring out the alternate personality and make them do things. Tamerlan thought someone might have done that to him.”

The person inside him, as Tamerlan described it to Larking, “was someone who wanted to control him to make him do something.”


Later in the report, Tamerlan traveled to Dagestan and immersed himself in Islam. He fraternized with the Union of the Just, a non-violent group that "campaigns against human rights violations against Muslims." When he returned to his local mosque, with a whole new look, Tamerlan repeated the concept of someone in his brain to Larking:

Larking, too, found his young friend changed in several ways on his return. Much more serious than he had been, Tamerlan insisted that Larking grow a beard, “to honor the prophet Mohammed.” Larking complied. He also pressed Larking to remove his wedding ring, saying that most Muslims did not wear gold, but Larking refused. The last time Larking and Tamerlan sat together in the rear of the mosque, Tamerlan once again mentioned the voices in his head. This time, as Larking recalled it, he seemed afraid.

“He said, ‘Someone is in my brain, telling me stuff to do,’ ” recalled Larking. “He said he was trying to ignore it but it was hard to do. Whatever it was he was being told to do, he didn’t want to do it.”


The repeated occurences of Tamerlan's concern with his mental state provides a possibility as to the end result. Before Tamerlan was a devout Muslim—in his view, anyway—he was showing signs of someone with a mental illness. The struggles in his mind were a constant. And no one thought much of it, particularly his mother. This isn't a concrete reason as to why Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev attacked the Boston Marathon, but Tamerlan's concern with himself, confirmed by multiple people, provides a more plausible explanation than scary, scary Islam.

[Boston Globe]

Photo: Glenn DePriest/Getty Images