Virginia county officials say they’re trying to determine if laws broken in Marathon bombing suspect’s secret burial
DOSWELL, Va. — Officials in the county where the remains of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev have been buried say they were stunned to learn of the burial and they are looking into whether the law was followed in the process.
“As long as everything was done legally, there’s really very little we can do,” said Floyd Thomas, chairman of the board of supervisors of Caroline County. “What we would do is make sure that all of the laws regarding this particular burial were adhered to. If they were not, then I believe we would have to look at undoing what happened.”
Caroline County Sheriff Tony Lippa Jr. said he had alerted Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli about the incident, and was told Cuccinelli was looking into whether all laws were followed.
Tsarnaev was buried in a small Muslim cemetery in Doswell, a community about 15 miles from Richmond, the state capital.
Tsarnaev’s remains are interred at the Al-Barzakh Cemetery, the first Muslim cemetery in central Virginia, according to the Virginia woman who helped arrange the burial and to Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia.
The burial was coordinated by Martha Mullen, 48, who saw news reports about the protests outside the Worcester funeral home where Tsarnaev’s remains languished for nearly a week, and decided to help.
“It portrayed America at its worst,” she told the Globe this morning in a telephone interview. “The fact that people were picketing this poor man who was just trying to help [funeral director Peter Stefan] really upset me.”
The cemetery was tucked away, off a gravel road and around a wooden fence when a Globe reporter visited this afternoon. Forty-seven marked graves were each designated with a small green sign, the person’s name, and the date of death. The dates range from June 21, 1993, until April 16, 2013. There were also four unmarked plots, one of which presumably contained Tsarnaev’s body.
One of the unmarked plots had a half dozen red roses atop it that seemed like they had been there for several days. Three dusty wheelbarrows leaned against a nearby shed.
It was quiet. Birds chirped and traffic was light. Only a few local news trucks sat nearby.
But word was beginning to spread. One man heard it on the news and drove out near the site. Still, he didn’t want to see the grave, saying if he did, he would spit upon it.
“They should have burned him and sent him back to his mama,” said Wayne Pierce, a 61-year-old restaurant owner. “I just can’t believe this. I don’t know how they slipped him in like this.”
Asked about how he felt about his county becoming Tsarnaev’s burial place, Thomas, the county official, said, “We probably feel about this the way the rest of the nation does.”
“The reality is this was ... a horrific event in Boston,” he said. “We sympathize with all the people in Boston. We do not necessarily wish to be the home of the remains of one of those perpetrators.”
“This was a horrific act. This was a terrible crime,” Thomas added. “We don’t want the county to be remembered as the resting place for the remains of someone who committed a terrible crime.”
The cemetery is licensed by the county, but the county does not routinely get involved in burials. Some county officials didn’t even know there was a Muslim cemetery in their jurisdiction.
Lippa has stationed a deputy sheriff at the cemetery, but Lippa wouldn’t say how long the deputy would stay there. He noted that defaming a plot in a cemetery is a felony. “Are we taking security measures?” Lippa said. “I can assure you we are.”
He said the area had already become a public safety issue, given traffic and aggravated neighbors. But the county has no money in the budget for cemetery protection, and it is unclear how long a police officer will be stationed there.
Lippa and Thomas said at an afternoon press conference that they had not been able to confirm or deny that Tsarnaev was buried in their county. They had not seen a death certificate, and had not been able to reach the owner of the cemetery. (A death certificate released by the city of Boston today listed the Virginia cemetery as the place of burial.)
The only thing they had confirmed was that there was a burial. They emphasized that they were not consulted, were not aware, and provided no permission for the burial.
“I know of no Virginia law enforcement agency that was notified of this event,” Lippa said. He said he learned of the burial from news reports. “It caught all of us off guard,” Lippa said. “None of us know anything about this. Had we known ahead of time, it would have raised other questions.”
Mullen, the woman who stepped forward to arrange the burial, said that she had reached out to Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia, which is associated with the Islamic Society of Greater Richmond. The Islamic organization secured a burial plot in the cemetery and coordinated the body’s secret transfer Wednesday night.
“What Tsarnaev did is between him and God,’’ the Islamic organization said in a statement. “We strongly disagree with his violent actions, but that does not release us from our obligation to return his body to the earth.’’
On the official Virginia tourism webpage, Doswell is described as a village once known as Hanover Junction because two railroads lines that played a role in the Civil War are located nearby. Doswell is part of Hanover County, which is listed as the birthplace of Triple Crown winner Secretariat.
Tsarnaev’s body was removed from the funeral home without any public notice. Only after it was buried did Worcester police publicly announce both the removal of the remains and their entombment somewhere outside Worcester.
Tsarnaev, 26, died April 19 after a shootout with police in Watertown, four days after prosecutors say he and his brother, Dzhokhar, allegedly detonated two bombs that killed three people and injured more than 260 near the Marathon finish line.
Dzhokhar, 19, allegedly drove over his brother as he fled the scene. He was captured about 18 hours later. He faces federal charges that could bring the death penalty. The brothers also allegedly killed MIT Police Officer Sean Collier.
Since last Friday, when Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s remains arrived at the funeral home, the cities of Cambridge and Boston and cemeteries in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey had refused to accept Tsarnaev’s remains.
On Tuesday, a proposal to bury him on the grounds of a Massachusetts state prison fell apart. Worcester Police Chief Gary J. Gemme then publicly appealed for someone to come forward and provide a burial site for Tsarnaev.
Worcester police said Thursday that Gemme’s public appeal was successful and a “compassionate individual” had agreed to resolve the stalemate that had forced police to guard the funeral home, which was besieged by protesters and the media.
After Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s death, his widow, Katherine Russell, waived her right to decide where her husband should be buried and handed that responsibility to Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, a Maryland resident who conducted Muslim burial rites on his nephew.
The Globe reported today that Tsarnaev’s parents have “made their peace with the fact that he is buried.’’John R. Ellement, Andrew Ryan, and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Wesley Lowery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.