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Baffled by that 19-year-old bomber

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, April 27, 2013

I am not a runner, but like most of you, I can make some personal connections to the Boston Marathon after the tragedy that occurred there April 15.

Two homemade bombs claimed three lives: an 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard, and two women in their 20s, Chrystle Campbell and Lingzi Lu.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

Local attorney Thomas Aaberg, who ran the marathon that day, talked to the Lions’ Club this week. He said as soon as he got back to Texas the next day, he went straight to Alvord Elementary to have lunch with his 8-year-old son.

He just had to hug his boy.

I have two daughters in their 20s, and you can be sure I’m going to hug them extra hard next time I see them. But the one that gets to me is the 19-year-old.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, 26, are the suspects – if you can still call them that – accused of building the bombs, loading them into backpacks and casually dropping them at the race scene, then setting them off with cellphones. The video and still photography of them there, combined with the evidence found at their home, and the subsequent carjacking and cold-blooded murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier, is overwhelming.

Tamerlan was wounded in a shootout with police and died after his brother ran over him with the stolen car while making his short-lived getaway.

Now the whole world is focused on the 19-year-old, everyone asking the same question: Why?

I have a 19-year-old son.

Nineteen is supposed to be about freedom, exploring options and feeling invincible; meeting interesting people and talking endlessly about your opinions, your choices, what you’re learning. It’s about deciding who you want to be, what role you will play in a world that just got much bigger than you’d imagined.

It’s about finding someone who will love you for who you are and help you become who you will be, when you yourself have no idea of either. It’s about the great, intriguing, inviting unknown. It’s about not being a teenager anymore, not being a man yet, but being OK with who and where you are. It’s about defining yourself.

The question I can’t escape is, how does a normal 19-year-old kid decide to define himself as a terrorist? How does a seemingly well-adjusted 19-year-old morph into making bombs, murdering innocents, jacking cars and shooting it out with the police?

How does the infinite freedom of 19 spend its last free hours bleeding and shivering under a tarp in a boat in some stranger’s driveway?

I ache for the dead and wounded, but Dzhokhar is the one who haunts me.

I can’t look at that kid without seeing my son, all that curly hair and lean, lanky frame – maybe with a baseball cap on backwards and a backpack hanging loosely from his broad shoulders.

How could he casually drop that deadly backpack on the sidewalk, knowing it would kill and injure real people? Maybe he played too many video games to be able to understand or empathize with real-life suffering.

It’s hard to believe this smart, good-looking, popular kid was that angry.

Maybe his brother convinced him America was responsible for everything wrong in this world, that he would be a soldier, attacking that evil.

Perhaps he realizes by now that he was not a soldier. Frankly, I’m not sure he even qualifies as a terrorist. The evidence isn’t all in, of course, but he strikes me as more of a “wannabe” than the real thing, like punk kids wearing gang colors and acting like thugs in the hallways at school.

They’re going to prosecute Dzhokhar in the criminal justice system, and that’s where he belongs. At 19, his free life is over.

And for what?

Dzhokhar and his brother revealed their character in misguided cowardice, using stealth and deception to attack innocent, unsuspecting and unarmed people. They ended four lives, brought pain and sorrow to hundreds more and made a country weep.

And in the process, they threw their own lives away.

Ever since I heard, I’ve felt an overwhelming need to go hug my 19-year-old.

Bob Buckel is executive editor of the Wise County Messenger.

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