Virginia woman who coordinated Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s burial says protests showed ‘America at its worst’

The secret transport of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body from Worcester to a small community near Richmond, Va., was set in motion by a woman who said she was upset to hear about protests to his burial and wanted to see an end to the weeklong burial saga.

Martha Mullen, 48, of Richmond, said she was dismayed reports of protests outside of Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors in Worcester that she heard on National Public Radio.

“It portrayed America at its worst,’’ she said in an interview with the Globe this morning. “The fact that people were picketing this poor man who was just trying to help [funeral director Peter Stefan] really upset me.’’


Mullen, a licensed professional counselor who has lived in Richmond for most of her life, said she was sitting in a Starbucks Tuesday when it hit her: She could be the one to end the controversy.

“Jesus says [to] love our enemies,’’ said Mullen, who holds a degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. “So I was sitting in Starbucks and thought, maybe I’m the one person who needs to do something.’’

After searching the Web for proper Muslim burial traditions and requirements, she turned her search to any local organizations or cemeteries that might be able to facilitate the burial.

Mullen said she then e-mailed Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia, which responded within an hour that it could provide a plot for Tsarnaev at the Al-Barzakh Cemetery, in Doswell, Va.

From there, Mullen reached out to the Worcester police — who had been providing around-the-clock protection for Stefan, whose funeral home had held Tsarnaev’s body for the past week.

Throughout Tuesday night and most of the day Wednesday, Stefan, Worcester police, and the Islamic Funeral Services crafted a plan to get the body to Virginia.

Tsarnaev’s body was removed from the home Thursday night 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 of 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, but was captured about 18 hours later. He faces federal charges that could bring the death penalty.

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 refused to accept Tsarnaev’s remains.

“What Tsarnaev did is between him and God. We strongly disagree with his violent actions, but that does not release us from our obligation to return his body to the earth,’’ an Islamic Funeral Services of Virgina official, who did not want to be named, said in a statement.

Other than that statement, officials at Islamic Funeral Services and the cemetery referred all questions on the burial to Mullen, who spoke exclusively with the Globe.

“It was the right thing to do,’’ Mullen said. “I just hope that now the funeral home and the families involved can start to return to their normal lives.’’

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