DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene and we are continuing to report on what has just been an astonishing morning with quickly developing events. Much of the activity has been in and around the City of Boston, which remains on lockdown. What does that mean? Residents of Boston and in communities around the city have been told to remain in their homes, both for their safety and to keep the streets clear for police to do their work.
They are carrying out a massive manhunt for one of the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday. A second suspect has been killed. Now one thing we have learned this morning is that the two suspects, as 19 year old and a 26 year old are from the Russian republic of Chechnya and we want to turn now to a place where people have been following these events as closely as anyone, and that is at the White House.
President Obama was briefed for an hour this morning on the developments in the marathon bombing investigation. Vice President Joe Biden also attended the briefing in the White House situation room and we have on the line NPR's White House correspondent, Ari Shapiro. And tell us the scene at the White House, Ari.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Well, as you said, David, it seems as though the entire federal government has mobilized at the White House situation room this morning. In addition to the president and vice president, the Attorney General, the FBI director was there by video; the homeland security secretary, CIA director, Secretary of State all joined in. This briefing lasted about an hour, from 9:45 to 10:45.
We were scheduled to hear from the press secretary, Jay Carney, at noon today. That was scheduled yesterday. The White House just recently announced that that is postponed until further notice. Overnight the president received briefings from his Homeland Security and counterterrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco, who has sort of been his point person as this whole thing has unfolded.
So you get the sense that the entire White House is mobilizing around this, but they are not saying much to the press or the public.
GREENE: And you know, you brought up a name right here with a title that sounds very important and crucial in these moments, but a name that I don't know many Americans know very well: Lisa Monaco. Tell us more about her if you can.
SHAPIRO: That's right. She's very new to the job and she has a whole career in national security. Most recently she ran the national security division at the Justice Department. Before that she was FBI Director Mueller's chief of staff. Even earlier than that she was an advisor to Attorney General Janet Reno in the Clinton years.
She is a contender to replace FBI Director Mueller when he steps down at the end of - in September of this year, and it is safe to say that Lisa Monaco has not had much sleep this week.
GREENE: I can imagine.
SHAPIRO: She has been briefing President Obama night and day and interestingly also has a personal connection to Boston. It's the city where she grew up. She went to Harvard before leaving Boston to go to law school elsewhere, but she has really been at the center of this story, at least as far as the White House is concerned.
GREENE: And probably not just paying attention to this story. I mean when we didn't know about what was behind the explosions in Texas, at that fertilizer plant, I'm sure things like that are on her radar and on her plate as well.
SHAPIRO: Exactly. Yesterday I was on the Air Force One flight to Boston with President Obama and asked one of the White House aides about the briefings on the explosions in West, Texas. And the aide said, well, before the president's early morning briefing about Boston, he had an even earlier morning briefing about Texas.
I said, well, who did that briefing? And he said got to double check, but I think that was probably Lisa too.
GREENE: And amazing, Lisa Monaco, very early on in the job. I mean this is just trial by fire, it seems like.
SHAPIRO: Absolutely. Very early on in the job. The person who held this job before, John Brennan, left to become CIA director and was very close to President Obama. Had a long history with President Obama going all the way back. Lisa Monaco does not have that kind of personal relationship, but we've seen all of these Flickr photos released by the White House that show her in the Oval Office, in the hallway with President Obama, telling him about what's going on, the latest developments in this Boston investigation.
GREENE: And of course, Ari, we have not heard from the president yet today, but you mentioned you traveled with him yesterday to Boston where the president spoke at an interfaith service for victims from the marathon bombing. What was his message? What was your impression?
SHAPIRO: It was reminder that this is a president who even in a time of mourning can get a somber crowd cheering on their feet, just roaring. You know, he started out talking about how personal an attack on Boston feels. His own connection to Boston, having gone to Harvard Law School, and the connection to Boston that so many other people around the country have.
Then he talked about some of the victims, including eight-year-old Martin Richard and that now iconic photo of the eight-year-old holding that sign that says stop hurting people, peace. In this speech, the president compared the city to marathoners, who feel like they cannot go one more mile and then they see a stranger holding a cup of water and they know they can do it.
He talked about the 78-year-old Bill Iffrig, who in another iconic photo now we saw him knocked down in his orange tank top by the blast and he got up and finished the race. And President Obama said we may be temporarily knocked down, but we will finish the race. And then he ended the speech by talking about Boston's sports teams winning championships and the parade that will happen down Boylston Street and the 118th Marathon next spring when he said the crowds will fill the streets of Boston again.
GREENE: That marathon will go on, will go on. NPR White House correspondent, Ari Shapiro, thanks a lot.
SHAPIRO: You're welcome.
GREENE: Now, earlier we reached the aunt of the two suspects in this case. She spoke to NPR's Joseph Shapiro. Her name is Maret Tsarnaev and let's hear what they had to say to our colleague, NPR's Joseph Shapiro.
MARET TSARNAEV: When I saw pictures, they said suspects are identified. Would never have crossed my mind, ever, that my nephews would be there with, you know, with intent of committing something horrible.
JOSEPH SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Where was the family before they were...
TSARNAEV: We were in Kyrgystan. We were all born, lived, studied in Kyrgystan. That's where all the Chechens were deported in 1944, you know, accused of being collaborators of Nazis. And (unintelligible) my brother's family lived in Chechnya only for one year and just before the first war broke out, in 1994, in December, that's when they fled quickly back to Kyrgystan.
You know, because, you know, they're not part of this war.
SHAPIRO: Got it.
TSARNAEV: They never lived in Chechnya. They were not making all of these dirty politics. If they would be involved, they wouldn't even know what part to take because there's no part.
SHAPIRO: So this is all important background for us and I do appreciate you...
TSARNAEV: Yes, I'm trying to explain this because, you know, I know that now they will be trying to put connection between, you know, Chechen fighters, something, and this and then - then religion. That's why I said, first, have nothing to do with Chechen wars. Never lived there. Then religion. Tamerlan has a Christian wife and daughter.
As he said to his father when he married this girl, he said, Dad, she's from a very good Christian family. Only underlining that she is a believer of one God. What's bad in it?
SHAPIRO: And Tamerlan had how many children?
TSARNAEV: One. One girl. He was very happy to have that girl.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. It's been a family that's been a Muslim family?
TSARNAEV: It's been Muslim family, yes. Guys just performing their prayers five times a day (unintelligible) by the way, Tamerlan began doing that maybe, you know, four, five years ago. I just really, I don't believe this - unless I see this, pictures taken, his face. Then you convinced me. And then FBI convinced me or any other agency officers would convince me.
SHAPIRO: These are not men with any mental health issues?
TSARNAEV: No, no, no. Unless, you know, whatever appeared lately, but come on. Look at their faces. I know their faces, I know their expressions. They're walking in the street. There's no concern on the face. There's no fear, there's no madness. There's no - no nothing.
TSARNAEV: You know. I would expect a person that comes out on the street to commit something.
GREENE: That's the voice of Maret Tsarnaev. Her nephews, her two nephews, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan, are the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police last night and there is a manhunt underway right now for his younger brother, Dzhokhar. We have been covering this story all morning and we can repeat again that the City of Boston and its surrounding communities remain in lockdown as police continue to carry out this manhunt for one of the suspects.
You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.