First, she went by Katie. In the late 1990s or early 2000s, she took ballet lessons, as many girls do, although she was too tall for it to become a professional option. She played alto saxophone in the school band. By high school, her love of dance transitioned to a spot on the North Kingstown High School dance team; she also enrolled in several years of art classes and participated in the art club, where she excelled in drawing.
Amos Trout Paine, a former art teacher at the school, had her as a student for all four years, offering to write her letters of recommendation. When he heard that Tsarnaev’s wife was from North Kingstown, “I thought, wait, that can’t be Katie Russell. But it was.” She dressed in typical teenage-girl clothes then; in well-circulated yearbook photographs, you can see her in T-shirts, brown hair loose and spilling past her shoulders. She seemed like one of the crowd, Paine says. She had friends.
Her parents, Warren, an emergency room doctor, and Judith, a nurse, were “great,” and “supportive,” writes an acquaintance who is a contemporary of the Russell daughters, via e-mail.
“It was a fairly tight-knit family,” says the person who is familiar with the Russells and who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject matter. The girls “had plenty of freedom. . . . Not like some kids where it’s not allowed for boys to see girls or girls to see boys.”
Although she’d written “Peace Corps” as a post-graduation possibility in her senior yearbook, when Russell finished high school in 2007 she enrolled in the communications department of Suffolk University — an urban campus in Boston’s chi-chi Beacon Hill neighborhood.
A former student who was a communications major at the same time that Russell was — but who did not remember knowing her — describes the institution as “friendly” and international. The student body represents more than 100 different countries, a diversity that might have appealed to someone interested in international service.
But if Russell joined any social groups or made any particular college friendships, no one has come forward to speak about them.
Instead, she met Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
At a nightclub, her lawyer, Amato DeLuca, has said, through a mutual friend.
“He was tall and handsome and had some measure of worldliness,” the family intimate says. Tsarnaev came from a foreign country, spoke multiple languages and might have seemed exotic or exciting. The family didn’t think much of him, but not because of his religion. They were concerned with his lack of employment, his apparent inability to be a good provider or partner.