Virginia deserved notice on bomb suspect burial -funeral director

Reuters News
Posted: May 11, 2013 5:26 PM

By Ross Kerber

BOSTON (Reuters) - Local officials in Virginia should have been told before the body of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was interred there, said the funeral director who handled his remains.

Worcester, Massachusetts, funeral home owner Peter Stefan also said Boston city officials had known by Wednesday where the body was being taken, shedding new light on the controversial burial.

But, Stefan said, the process was done correctly, under rules that give burial rights to family members, and that he had spoken with Virginia officials who were reviewing the situation to make sure it was legal.

"We did not just arbitrarily send that body down," Stefan said in a telephone interview with Reuters on Saturday.

"We have informed them that everything was done legally. They know that. But I just felt uncomfortable," he said. "It didn't feel right."

Tamerlan, 26, and his 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar, are believed to have set off two bombs near the finish line at the Boston Marathon on April 15, killing three people and injuring 264.

After Tamerlan died in a shootout with police on April 19, disposition of the ethnic Chechen's remains became controversial with local cemeteries refusing to accept them, while some family members sought to have them transported overseas. Massachusetts officials, including the city manager in Tsarnaev's hometown of Cambridge and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, called for the body to be buried outside their communities.

On Friday, an official death certificate released by Menino's office showed that Tsarnaev had been buried in a Muslim cemetery in Doswell, Virginia, near Richmond.

Stefan said Tsarnaev's body was transported to Virginia in a van driven by his uncle, Ruslan Tsarni. Tsarni has denounced the bombing but said he had a responsibility to arrange for his nephew's burial, which took place Thursday.

A Richmond woman, Martha Mullen, told the Boston Globe she helped arrange for the burial after hearing media reports of the controversy and protests outside the Graham, Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors in Worcester, Massachusetts.

"Jesus says love our enemies," Mullen told the newspaper, adding that the protests "portrayed America at its worst."

Stefan said Tsarni and at least one funeral home staff member drove to Boston on Wednesday afternoon and filed the death certificate with city health officials, part of the regular process of obtaining a burial permit. The certificate shows that officials issued a permit May 8, the same day.

After that step in the process, the city could have disclosed information about the burial site, said Stefan, who also chairs a state board that oversees funeral services. While he said local officials in Virginia should have been told that Tsarnaev's body was being taken there, Stefan said rules limited what he himself could say until after the death certificate was made public.

Stefan said he did not blame Menino for not flagging the form earlier, however. "He probably didn't even know it was filed. That would be some inconsequential thing to him," Stefan said.

Spokespeople for Menino did not immediately return requests for comment.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev remains in a prison west of Boston after being charged with crimes that could carry the death penalty if he is convicted.

(Reporting By Ross Kerber; editing by Gunna Dickson)