The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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May 10, 2013

Boston bombing suspect buried in Virginia cemetery

DOSWELL, Va. — Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev has been buried in a cemetery in central Virginia, infuriating some members of the area’s Islamic community who say they weren’t consulted and flooring at least one neighbor who said she didn’t even know she lived near a burial ground.

The secret interment this week at a small Islamic cemetery ended a frustrating search for a community willing to take the body, which had been kept at a funeral parlor in Worcester, Mass., as cemeteries in Massachusetts and several other states refused to accept the remains.

Tsarnaev, 26, was killed April 19 in a getaway attempt after a gun battle with police. His younger brother, Dzhokhar, was captured later and remains in custody. They are accused of setting off two shrapnel-packed pressure-cooker bombs April 15 near the marathon finish line, an attack that killed three people and injured more than 260.

Their uncle, Ruslan Tsarni of Montgomery Village, Md., took responsibility for the body after Tamerlan’s wife, Katherine Russell, said she wanted it released to her in-laws. He said his nephew was buried in a cemetery in Doswell with the help of a faith coalition.

“The body’s buried,” said the uncle. “That’s it.”

Tsarni has denounced the acts his nephews are accused of committing and has said they brought shame to the family and the entire Chechen community.

Dozens of communities approached about hosting a gravesite had refused, many with concerns about gravesite vandalism and backlash from the public. With costs to protect the funeral home mounting, Worcester police earlier appealed for help finding a place to bury Tsarnaev.

They had announced Thursday that “as a result of our public appeal for help, a courageous and compassionate individual came forward to provide the assistance needed to properly bury the deceased.”

Martha Mullen, of Richmond, Va., told The Associated Press in a brief telephone interview that she offered to help after seeing news reports about towns and cemeteries refusing to allow burial. She said she is not the only person who helped with arrangements.

“It was an interfaith effort,” she said. “Basically because Jesus says love your enemies.”

The cemetery is hidden among the rural woods and hills of Caroline County, about 30 miles north of Richmond, and contains only 47 graves in all. All were covered with reddish-brown mulch except for two that appeared newly dug, neither with any kind of marking and one of them presumably Tsarnaev’s.

On one of the new graves lay a vase full of roses at one end and a single red rose at the other end. The other new grave was bare.

A news helicopter hovered overhead, along with a swarm of television news trucks in what is ordinarily a tranquil meadow in a large, wooded section within sight of a roller coaster at the Kings Dominion amusement park along Interstate 95.

It was not immediately clear who owned the cemetery in Doswell. The Virginia Cemetery Board, a government agency, regulates only for-profit cemeteries. Cemeteries owned by churches and government entities are not required to have a state-issued license.

Imam Ammar Amonette, of the Islamic Center of Virginia, said that his group was never consulted and that Mullen reached out to a separate group, the Islamic Society of Greater Richmond.

“The whole Muslim community here is furious. Frankly, we are furious that we were never given any information. It was all done secretly behind our backs,” Amonette said, adding that it “makes no sense whatsoever” that Tsarnaev’s body was buried in Virginia.

“Now everybody who’s buried in that cemetery, their loved ones are going to have to go to that place,” he said.

The Islamic Society of Greater Richmond didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking confirmation that it was involved in the burial.

At least one neighbor was unaware the cemetery was even there.

Jaquese Goodall, who lives less than a quarter-mile away down a winding country lane, said a rope usually blocks the gravel road leading to the cemetery. She had no idea when the body was buried and never saw hearses enter or leave the property.

“If they didn’t want him in Boston, why did they bring him all the way down here against our wishes?” said Goodall, 21, who has lived in the area all her life.

“I am worried because his people may come down here to visit and there will be a whole lot of problems from him being here,” said Goodall, a Baptist.

Caroline County Sheriff Tony Lippa was concerned, too, that the grave site could become a target for vandals and a shrine for those who sympathize with Tsarnaev, forcing his lean department – rural Caroline County’s primary law-enforcement agency – to use money and officers it doesn’t have guarding the secluded, private cemetery.

“I know of no Virginia law enforcement agency that was notified. No one in county or state government was aware of this,” Lippa said.

Desecrating the grave, he said, is a felony. Merely trespassing onto the private property of the cemetery is a misdemeanor, he said.

Floyd Thomas, the chairman of Caroline County’s board of supervisors, considered Tsarnaev’s possible burial a black mark against the county, where President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was cornered and killed 148 years ago.

“This was a horrific act, a terrible crime,” Thomas, speaking at a news conference, said of the Boston Marathon bombing. He said he didn’t want Caroline to be remembered as the final resting place of one of the bombing’s alleged perpetrators.

Local officials asked Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to look into whether any laws were broken in carrying out the hushed burial. If not, there’s likely nothing they can do.

“If there were, I think we’d try to undo what’s been done,” Thomas said.

Lane Kneedler, an attorney who represented the Virginia Cemetery Association when the law was drafted to regulate for-profit cemeteries in the late 1990s, said private burial grounds only have to meet local zoning requirements. Mike Finchum, planning director for Caroline County, did not immediately return a voice mail message.

Kneelder said that once a cemetery is approved and operating, only its owner controls who is buried there. The Virginia Department of Health has no say on cemetery operations, spokeswoman Maribeth Brewster said.

Tsarnaev’s death certificate was released Friday. It shows he was shot by police in the firefight the night of April 18, run over and dragged by a vehicle, and died a few hours later on April 19. Authorities have said his brother ran over him in his getaway attempt.

He was pronounced dead at a hospital in Boston, where he could have been buried under state law, because the city was his place of death. But Boston officials said they wouldn’t take the body because Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen from Russia, lived in Cambridge, and Cambridge also refused.

His mother also said Russia refused to allow his body into the country so she could bury him in her native Dagestan, but Russian authorities would not comment on that contention.

Peter Stefan, the director of the Worcester funeral home where Tsarnaev’s body was held, said the body was moved out of his home Wednesday evening in a nondescript van to keep the transport to Virginia secret. He said it’s unfortunate that the Virginia locality wasn’t notified of the burial plans.

“What I really didn’t care much for was the fact that the city or town wasn’t notified.” he said. He added, “Once the family takes over, it’s their responsibility. But there’s a moral issue here.”

He acknowledged that the Virginia locality might have said “no.” He had called scores of towns in nearly every state trying to get one to accept Tsarnaev’s body.

“Nobody in the entire country wanted this guy,” he said. “Absolutely nobody."

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