Just four months after the Boston Marathon bombings, as the city continues to reel and heal, the fan base for 20-year-old suspected terrorist Dzhokhar "Jahar" Tsarnaev is going strong.
Tsarnaev supporter and New York City resident Karina said her loyalty is due to a strong belief that he is innocent — not an attraction.
“I saw a lot of the teenage fan girls in the beginning, but that has diminished because we called them out pretty quickly,” said Karina, who requested her last name be withheld. "It is obvious that he’s a good-looking young man," she added.
"Speaking for myself, I don’t see a cute guy. I see someone who got screwed over big time, and it could happen to me or anyone. I will never give up. I am there 110 percent."
Karina was one of the few people to squeeze into Tsarnaev's July 10 appearance in federal court, and she intends to make it to his Sept. 23 appearance, as well as to the trial, which is expected to run about three months. Karina said she shows her support by protesting (she demonstrated outside Moakley Federal Court in July) and also sends him letters and corresponds with his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva.
"I have a heart. I have compassion and empathy and see the injustice — and that's what I'm pointing out, the injustice."
Like Karina, thousands of supporters insist their loyalty is due to a steadfast belief that Tsarnaev is innocent; but others, mainly young women, come dangerously close to an unhealthy infatuation with a high-profile criminal.
“There is the notion that [fans] are attracted to someone who, albeit for a heinous reason, is famous," said Dr. Carlos Cuevas, a Cambridge-based clinical psychologist. "For others, it may be a rescue fantasy. They believe they're going to save this individual."
Two women and an 8-year-old boy were killed and more than 260 when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15. Authorities say Tsarnaev and his late brother Tamerlan killed MIT campus police officer Sean Collier three days after the bombings.
On June 27, Tsarnaev was handed a 30-count indictment which includes charges of deadly use of a weapon of mass destruction, conspiracy, aiding and abetting, deadly use of a firearm, carjacking and interference with commerce.
Tsarnaev is being held in solitary confinement at a federal prison in Devens, Mass. He receives letters, books and financial support from admirers.
"People contacting him may have a thought, idea or fantasy about who he is without really knowing him," said Cuevas. "[It's] pulled together from what they see in the media and read about what he was like before."
A quick search of "Jahar" on Twitter shows that Tsarnaev's admirers regularly take to social media to express feelings of affection.
"I hate when people say 'im in love with a criminal.' If you haven't, you're basically saying he did it," one fan tweeted. Another said, "Yes I do love Jahar but I'm not in love with him. I care about him and I love him like a brother even though I've never even met him."
For some supporters, Tsarnaev’s fair face negates the ugliness of his alleged crimes, and many believe that this month’s The Rolling Stone cover did little to abate the fan fever.
“I think it glorified and fueled some of that. It makes him out to be a rock star,” said Cuevas.
The polished cover was so infuriating to Massachusetts State Police Sgt. Sean Murphy that it prompted him to release bloody and obviously unflattering photos from the scene of Tsarnaev’s April 19 arrest.
“This is the real Boston bomber. Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone,” Murphy told Boston magazine.
Stores boycotted the magazine, readers vowed subscription cancellations and social media rallied against the publication. Some of Tsarnaev’s supporters slammed the magazine for basically labeling the suspect guilty before trial. But the sultry cover did just what critics feared it would do for other supporters – make them drool.
“They really put jahar on the cover of Rolling Stones, wowowowow lol he looks hot though,” one supporter tweeted last month.
One young woman said that the terrorism suspect “is smoking hot. Omg I’d f-ck him blind.”
According to forensic psychoanalyst William J. Massicotte, a lot of that comes from the nature of adolescence.
“They do have to rebel, in order to consolidate the beginnings of a separate adult identity," said Massicotte. "There is a forbidden element to sexuality, and it helps make it more attractive. Do any of us feel surprised by the fact that gang members have girlfriends? No, not really.”
Experts believe that people's fascination with high-profile criminals and suspects is a complex issue that varies with each case, but the infatuations can be indicative of deeper issues.
“I think it speaks to some degree about your choice and the comfort about being in a relationship. … It does say something about your confidence and how you go about choosing partners," said Cuevas.
Massicotte said few females act on their "passing fantasies," but "those who may suffer from borderline personality disorder, or are from deprived backgrounds, or both, are more inclined."