Boston Bomber Widow Katherine Russell's Muslim Conversion Was 'Sudden And Shocking,' Says Neighbor

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Apr. 23 2013, Published 6:39 a.m. ET

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Now famous as the widow of the Boston Marathon bomber who was killed in a shoot out with police, Katherine Russell seemingly transformed from an all-American girl to a devout Muslim almost overnight, according to neighbors who were astounded by her sudden change.

"I knew Katherine had converted to Islam because she began to wear the traditional clothing, but I didn't know she was connected in any way, shape or form with the terrorist attack," Karen Mather, who lives in the same neighborhood in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, as the Russell family, exclusively tells

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"I was surprised to see that – we're a very close-knit neighborhood so you know your neighbors, what their routine is and what they dress like. Just to have that sudden transformation one day was shocking," she says.

As previously reported, the 24-year-old was raised a Christian, and converted to Islam after marrying now dead bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, whom she met at a nightclub in 2009 while a student at Boston’s Suffolk University.

Despite the 26-year-old Chechnya native showing his violent side long before the massacre with an arrest for domestic abuse and battery of Katherine at the home they shared in 2009, a year later they were married and now have a three-year-old daughter named Zahara.

The controlling relationship had a dramatic affect on the health aide who worked seven-days a week to support her stay-at-home husband, and last Fall she was first spotted in full religious dress by neighbors of her parents, Warren and Judith Russell.

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"She was just going into the house, and there was a little silver car with Massachusetts  plates parked outside," explained Mather, who had never seen Tamerlan with his wife.

"It was just out of the ordinary as there are not a lot of outsiders coming into our neighborhood.

Katherine is currently back at the Rhode Island home with her family, and Mather tells that her formerly friendly and sociable neighbors have locked themselves behind closed blinds since the news broke on Friday.


"They put the house up for sale, that was out of the ordinary. It was listed on Saturday and there was no for sale sign prior to this," she reveals.

"I feel badly for the family, we have kids the same age and they are super sweet. You send your kids off to college and you don't have control over who they meet or fall in love with.

"You don't know how they will come back in four years. They have a grandchild so will always be connected to the brother. I sympathize with them, their life was shaken up as well. I am hoping the daughter will talk and cooperate to the Feds as much as possible so that we can all move on," she said.

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In a statement made on Friday, the Russell family said Tsarnaev wasn’t the man they believed him to be. “In the aftermath of the Patriots’ Day horror we know that we never really knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Our hearts are sickened  by the knowledge of the horror he has inflicted.”

Tamerlan died after a gun battle early Friday with police, and Dzhokhar, who fled from the battle and eluded a daylong manhunt, was spotted by a vigilant resident and captured after a standoff in Watertown, Massachusetts, and is now at is now in the custody of the US Marshals Service at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

The 19-year-old has been charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against persons and property in the United States resulting in death and malicious destruction of property by an explosive device, and faces the death penalty.

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