Nineteen-year-old Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is awake, but he's not talking -- that is, he's not able to speak.
Because of what is believed to be a self-inflicted bullet wound to the neck, he may never speak again. In the meantime, he's responding to investigators' questions with written answers.
Dzhokhar's older brother, Tamerlan, is dead from wounds incurred in a shootout with police attempting to apprehend the duo Thursday night. That came after what was originally reported to be a robbery at a convenience store, but wasn't.
Tamerlan's body has been stripped of explosives, leaving behind a mysterious tangle of motives that goes far deeper than traumatic bruises and burn marks. Something happened in the young man's head that won't be apparent even after an autopsy. He was a human cypher until the end, and it will be a while before he is accorded the dignity of a proper burial.
Perhaps Dzhokhar will eventually get around to explaining why his 26-year-old brother made himself into a human bomb before they engaged in a shootout with police. Some reports had Dzhokhar running over his older brother -- the plot's alleged mastermind -- as he fled the scene in a stolen vehicle.
That story hasn't changed much, but give it time. The only guarantee in an ever-morphing narrative like this one is the inevitability of change. By the time Dzhokhar was cornered in a boat moored in a backyard just outside the area police had cordoned off, he was the most inscrutable teenager in the world.
Dehydrated and losing blood, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had finally reached the end of his days as a free person who could come and go as he pleased. Assuming he spills details about everything he and his brother did and plotted, the best he can look forward to is decades in the isolation of a supermax prison as the price for avoiding execution.
Even if he sings like a bird, I suspect we'll always be left with the fundamental mystery of how a recently naturalized citizen who was attending the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth on scholarship would throw away his portion of the American dream with such utter disregard for his future. If they did it for a cause, what did they hope to gain by such acts of random brutality, especially if they weren't willing to take credit for it? If it wasn't for the sake of a foreign nationalist ideology, was it out of a perverted sense of religious duty?
Unlike Tamerlan, who had an arrest record and complained bitterly about not having a single "American friend," Dzhokhar was popular. Many considered him a friend and stepped forward to challenge the emerging narrative that he was capable of acts of terrorism in the day or two before he was captured. What's fascinating about these earnest testimonies is how insistent these "friends" are that Dzhokhar wasn't a killer.
It is one thing for parents to say such things, but it's more amazing to receive glowing reviews from other people horrified by what you're accused of doing. How did a 19-year-old fool so many people about his true nature -- and what does that say about the accuracy and relevance of our character judgments?
Naturally, everyone involved in U.S. security wants to know if any other plots are afoot and if the Tsarnaev brothers were part of an active terrorist network. Maybe this is a case of whistling past the graveyard, but I suspect that the brothers' ineptitude points to the fact that they weren't trained, although Tamerlan could've been politically radicalized overseas during his trips back to southern Russia. Then again, they both spent more than a decade in America, which doesn't take a back seat to anyone when it comes to violence.
Meanwhile, the Mujahideen of the Caucasus issued a statement denying responsibility for the bombing at the Boston marathon. The Chechen separatist movement has no beef with America or any connection with the Tsarnaev brothers, it insisted. "We are at war with Russia," it said in a statement.
It could be that there is simply no logical reason for what the Tsarnaev brothers did. They could be nihilists, which means we could all be guilty of overthinking. It could be that these two were driven more by a compulsion to do evil for its own sake than out of fealty to any religion or ideology. We'll probably never be satisfied with the surviving brother's answers, because we're utter rationalists when it comes to dealing with evil. Sometimes, evil is its own justification.
Even if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could talk, how could he put such a sentiment into words most of us would understand?
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631; Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.