Woman who helped arrange bomber's burial has no regrets
(AP Photo/http://www.chrisowensphoto.com, Chris Owens). In this undated photo released by Chris Owens, Martha Mullen, right, of Richmond, Va., prepares to arm wrestle an opponent, in Richmond, Va.
DOSWELL, Va. (AP) - The Virginia woman whose actions led to Boston
Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev being buried about 30 miles
north of her Richmond home said the angry backlash from local officials,
some cemetery neighbors and online critics has been unpleasant, but she
has no regrets.
"I can't pretend it's not difficult to be reviled
and maligned," Martha Mullen told The Associated Press in a telephone
interview Friday. "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."
Tsarnaev, 26, was quietly buried Thursday at a
small Islamic cemetery in rural Caroline County. His body had remained
at a Worcester, Mass., funeral parlor since he was killed April 19 in a
gunfight with police, days after the bombings that killed three and
injured more than 260 in downtown Boston. Cemeteries in Massachusetts
and several other states refused to accept the remains. With costs to
protect the funeral home mounting, Worcester police appealed for help
finding a place to bury Tsarnaev.
Mullen said she was at a Starbucks when she heard a radio news report about the difficulty finding a burial spot for Tsarnaev.
"My first thought was Jesus said love your enemies," she said.
Then she had an epiphany.
"I thought someone ought to do something about this - and I am someone," Mullen said.
So Mullen, a mental health counselor in private
practice and a graduate of United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio,
sent emails to various faith organizations to see what could be done.
She heard back from Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia, which arranged
for a funeral plot at the Al-Barzakh cemetery. "It was an interfaith
effort," she said.
Mullen, a member of the United Methodist Church,
said she was motivated by her own faith and that she had the full
support of her pastor.
"Nobody is without sin," she said. "Certainly this
was a horrific act, but he's dead and what happened is between him and
God. We just need to bury his body and move forward. People were making
an issue and detracting from the healing that needed to take place."
There was little talk of healing among Caroline County officials and the cemetery's neighbors, however.
Caroline County Sheriff Tony Lippa said late
Saturday that officials had examined paperwork necessary to move
Tsarnaev's corpse from Massachusetts for its Virginia burial, and the
interment appears legal. But he said his small department lacks the
money and personnel to provide round-the-clock stakeouts at the cemetery
as deputies did Friday night, which passed without incident.
"The Sheriff's Office will offer the same amount of
protection - no more and no less - to this site as any other cemetery
in Caroline County," Lippa said in a press release, noting that the
owners can hire private security to guard Tsarnaev's grave from vandals
if they wish.
Lippa was unhappy that he was blind-sided Friday by
the covert burial, and he wasn't alone. Even some people within the
area's Islamic community were incensed that they were not consulted
about the burial in advance.
Imam Ammar Amonette, of the Islamic Center of
Virginia, said that his group was never consulted and that Mullen had
reached out to a separate group, the Islamic Society of Greater
"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 respond to an email seeking confirmation that it was involved in the burial.
Some readers responding to online reports about the burial and Mullen's role were supportive, others sharply critical.
Jaquese Goodall, who lives less than a quarter-mile from the cemetery, was unhappy that Tsarnaev was buried there.
"If they didn't want him in Boston, why did they
bring him all the way down here against our wishes?" said Goodall, 21.
"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."
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.
"I know of no Virginia law enforcement agency that
was notified," Lippa said. "No one in county or state government was
aware of this."
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.
"We feel as far as this particular burial is
concerned, we feel the same way that most of the people in the county
feel - most of the way America feels. We're very angry over the bombing
... that's not something that's supposed to happen," he said.
"We don't want the county to be remembered as the resting place of the remains for someone who committed a terrible crime."
Peter Stefan, director of the Worcester funeral
home where Tsarnaev's body was held, had some sympathy for the Caroline
"What I really didn't care much for was the fact
that the city or town wasn't notified," he said. "Once the family takes
over, it's their responsibility. But there's a moral issue here."
Local officials asked Virginia 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 and church burial
grounds are not regulated by the state and only have to meet local
zoning requirements. He said that once a cemetery is approved and
operating, only its owner controls who is buried there.
The cemetery where Tsarnaev is buried contains 47
graves, all covered Friday with reddish-brown mulch except for two that
appeared newly dug and were unmarked. 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.
State police cruisers, county sheriff's cars and
black unmarked sedans with their emergency lights concealed cruised back
and forth past the cemetery, officers inside them eyeing everything for
any sign of trouble as reporters on the ground and those in helicopters
high overhead broadcast the gravesite's location to the world.
Meanwhile, 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 younger brother,
Dzhokhar, ran over him in his getaway attempt.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured later and remains in
custody. The brothers 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. The brothers are
also suspected in the shooting death days later of an MIT police
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 the Doswell cemetery with the help of a faith coalition.
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