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Emotions Run High After Boston Bombing Suspect's Burial

Some of the graves at the Al-Barzakh Islamic Cemetery in Doswell, Va., where the body of Boston Marathon bombings suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev has been buried. His grave was not identified to journalists.
Yuri Gripas
Reuters /Landov
Some of the graves at the Al-Barzakh Islamic Cemetery in Doswell, Va., where the body of Boston Marathon bombings suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev has been buried. His grave was not identified to journalists.

The news that Boston Marathon bombings suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev has been buried in a rural cemetery just north of Richmond, Va., is causing controversy there.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, concerns are being expressed by "a local Islamic leader, Caroline County officials and some neighbors."

Jaquese Goodall, 21, lives nearby and tells the newspaper: "I don't think it's right. ... I have a fear that some people might come visit him, and you don't know what they'll do while they're here."

Imam Ammar Amonette of the Islamic Center of Virginia, the Times-Dispatch reports, says "a lot of people, especially in the leadership, are very upset because they weren't consulted." Those who arranged for the burial "may have not understood the potential backlash and the impact on the community," he adds.

And at a news conference Friday, Caroline County Board of Supervisors Chairman Floyd Thomas, a Democrat, said "we don't want the county to be remembered as the resting place for the remains of someone who committed a terrible crime."

The Associated Press adds that "local officials [have] asked Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli [R] 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."

Meanwhile, the local sheriff says the cemetery will now have to be protected.

Tsarnaev, 26, and his 19-year-old brother Dzhokhar, are accused of planting two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The April 15 explosions killed three people and wounded more than 250. They're also accused of killing an MIT police officer on April 18 and of engaging in a gunbattle with police the next day. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died from injuries he sustained during that firefight. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured later that day. He's been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction.

As we've previously reported, it took about two weeks for a Massachusetts funeral director and Tsarnaev's relatives to find a cemetery willing to accept the body. Earlier this week, the police chief in Worcester, Mass., issued a strong appeal for help. "We are not barbarians, we bury the dead," Chief Gary Gemme said.

Martha Mullen of Richmond played a part in the decision to bury Tsarnaev in Virginia. She told NPR's Audie Cornish on Friday that "I was listening to NPR and I heard the story ... that he was unable to be buried and that people are protesting him. And it made me think of Jesus' words: Love your enemies. I felt that, also, he was being maligned probably because he was Muslim."

She emailed the Greater Richmond Islamic Society and the Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia. That helped set in motion a chain of events that led to Tsarnaev's uncle arranging — and paying — for his nephew's body to be transported south and buried in Virginia.

Mullen has been the target of sharp criticism, including from a local radio show host. She tells the AP that "I can't pretend it's not difficult to be reviled and maligned. ... But any time you can reach across the divide and work with people that are not like you, that's what God calls us to do."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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