It's over, as Page One headlines declared Saturday. But really, it's just beginning.

The capture of 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ended the immediate, known threat from bombs he was thought to be carrying Thursday night and firearms he used in a final, mercifully futile volley of gunfire at police before his capture Friday. But now we need to know whether the Tsarnaev brothers were part of a cell that could unleash additional attacks. Perhaps most important, we need to understand how Dzhokar and his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan, who was killed in a police shootout early Friday, were transformed from college students into purveyors of mayhem.

That understanding could help us prevent similar attacks in the years ahead. It might well have prevented this one if the warning signs had been better understood.

While Dzhokhar was popular and seemed fully assimilated, his brother had all the danger signs of alienation. Most unnerving, the FBI had been alerted to Tamerlan Tsarnaev's possible inclination to violence by Russian authorities before his visit there in 2012. Agents at the time investigated and then interviewed him, ultimately declaring him safe, although it appears his interest in incendiary web sites was clear.


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There is a thread of similarity between the Tsarnaev brothers and some other attackers, as the New York Times reported Saturday. Individuals who seemed to be assimilated into America were implicated in the Fort Hood shooting spree and the failed New York subway bombing in 2009, as well as the attempted bombing of Times Square the following year.

The peril of pursuing this thread is that it could lead to insidious profiling. But just as higher awareness and better treatment of the mentally ill could help to prevent some kinds of gun violence, we may find better ways to deal with alienation that, for a small number of immigrants and minorities, may lead to destructive behavior.

Many of our public safety tools are mixed blessings. The ubiquitous presence of cameras is what led to quick identification of the Tsarnaev brothers. To find terrorists, we are glad of this. For a society increasingly sacrificing privacy, this silent observation of all is eerily reminiscent of Orwellian tales that had come to feel quaintly apocalyptic.

We are a society struggling with the balance between using tools to keep us safe and sacrificing the privacy that is one of the things that makes our way of life worth protecting. That's why, while the marathon bombers are no longer a direct threat, we are just beginning to grapple with what happened over the past week and its implications for all of America.