Boston bomber's widow has no contact with FBI, but online support from Muslim 'reverts'

BOSTON - Four and a half months after the Boston Marathon bombing ripped through the finish line, killing 3 people and wounding more than 260, Katherine Russell's life has inched forward.

Russell, widow of bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, remains at her family's North Kingstown home, where she came after her husband died in a firefight with the police four days after the April 15 bombing.

Her lawyer says tabloid reports that Russell has reverted to Christianity are untrue.

"She remains a Muslim and still wears a hijab," says lawyer Amato A. DeLuca, of DeLuca & Weizenbaum.

Russell has been working for a family friend in Rhode Island "for a while," DeLuca said, while caring for her toddler daughter. After the bombing, Russell stopped using her husband's name.

The FBI and media no longer trail her. She has not been named a suspect. But Russell still faces formidable legal challenges as the investigation continues and prosecutors build their case against Tsarnaev's brother, who was arrested after a manhunt that shut down greater Boston.

A federal grand jury recently indicted the brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, on charges that carry the death penalty. Three of his friends have been indicted on charges of obstruction of justice, accused of destroying evidence.

DeLuca said Russell "has not gone before a grand jury" with regard to what she may know -- if anything -- about her dead husband's involvement in the bombing. "She has not been asked."

Meanwhile, Russell has received widespread support.

A Facebook group, "Muslims in Support of Katherine Russell," sprang up 10 days after the bombing. It hit the 1,000-member mark on Aug. 17, with joiners from around the globe.

People around the country have also sent dozens of letters to DeLuca's office. "Some go on for pages and pages," he said. "Very few" were hate mail.

"I have the letters and no one else. I am holding on to them because Katherine can't be distracted right now between this case, working and caring for her daughter," DeLuca added.

DeLuca said he told Russell about the Facebook group.

"She said it was nice that people support her." He added, "It is nice. It's sweet. It's thoughtful. It's just too bad that people have to go out of their way and explain (who they are). They should be able to be who they are."

Rachael Focht, a 24-year-old Pennsylvania resident, said by phone that she created the "Muslims in Support of Katherine Russell" group 10 days after the bombing, in part because of the misconception about "reverts."

According to Jennifer Ibrahim, a site administrator, many people use the term "convert" to describe someone who has left their faith to become a Muslim. "But because we believe we were born as Muslims but raised in other faiths, we say we're 'reverting' back to that original state."

Focht said, "I felt some kind of kinship with Katherine. She has a young toddler. I have one. We are both reverts," she said, explaining, "I converted to Islam when I was older."

"I felt the portrayal (of Russell) in the media was somehow unfair. ... I didn't know her exact story but felt she was made an example of what an American revert (is perceived as); what people were saying about her was not exactly true. We were not all brainwashed and forced into it (Islam) by a man."

The group encourages members to show support and share prayers for Russell and her family, reminding her "that when one hurts, we all hurt." It has expanded to address "misconceptions and negative portrayals about Muslim reverts."

The Facebook page opens with this message: "Our condolences to the victims and their families of the Boston Bombings. This group is for Muslims to show their support and share prayers for Katherine and her family. We should remind her that we are here by her side, when one hurts we all hurt. We denounce all acts of terrorism both at home and world-wide. If any non-Muslims wish to join, please feel free to do so."

A post by Samor Einalem reads: "Katherine, God will not give anyone what they can't handle. Therefore, you are a woman of strength for so many; woman, mothers, sisters, daughters, and Muslims. We lift you in prayer so that you stay encouraged ... May Allah bless you always!!!"

(Reach Providence Journal staff writer Karen Lee Ziner at kziner@providencejournal.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)