Officials continued to deflect responsibility for burying Tamerlan Tsarnaev on Monday. The bombing suspect’s remains are still above ground more than two weeks after his death.
Tsarnaev’s body has spent several days at Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors in Worcester, Mass., after it was retrieved from the state medical examiner by the funeral service Thursday.
Since then, demonstrators have gathered outside the funeral home to protest the presence of his corpse as federal, state and local officials avoided taking responsibility for burying Tsarnaev. He is accused of masterminding the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three people and wounded more than 260.
The situation, funeral director Peter A. Stefan told reporters outside the funeral home, “makes us look bad because we can’t bury anybody in the United States. It doesn’t happen. And I understand everyone’s feelings on this. But somewhere along the line, we have to set the feelings aside and take a step forward and say, ‘We have to do something.’ And we’re just about to that point now.”
Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni of Maryland, arrived Sunday to oversee Muslim burial preparations for his nephew’s body. Tsarnaev’s parents have remained in Russia, apprehensive about returning to a legal and political maelstrom in the U.S. after the attacks.
Tsarni expressed hope that Tsarnaev could be buried in Cambridge, Mass., where he’d lived for more than 10 years after moving from Kyrgyzstan. But odds of that happening look poor.
After several private cemeteries declined to receive Tsarnaev’s body, Cambridge’s city manager urged the family Sunday not to apply for burial in the city cemetery either, citing broad statutory language about keeping “peace within the city” in threatening to reject a burial application.
City Manager Bob Healy then suggested that federal officials take care of the funeral arrangements. FBI spokeswoman Katherine Gulotta told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday night, “To my knowledge, the FBI does not have a role in this, and I believe funeral regulation is a state issue.”
Then, on Monday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick told reporters it shouldn’t be up to the state or federal government to handle Tsarnaev’s body, but up to the family. Patrick declined to say whether he was against burying Tsarnaev in Massachusetts.
Funeral director Stefan hinted that he’d had conversations about transferring Tsarnaev’s body to Russia, where his family, ethnic Chechens, have ties to the country’s Caucasus region.
“I’d like to explore the Russian issue a bit more, if I can get to them.... That would be ideal,” Stefan told reporters.
“I’ve spoken to some people I can’t bring up or mention,” he continued. “The conversation was such: ‘Well, maybe, yes, who knows.’ That’s no good to me. I have to know somebody’s going to pick him up.”
Stefan added, “We have to do something, because in this country, we bury people. We don’t leave them hanging around.”
Massachusetts Funeral Directors Assn. spokesman David Walkinshaw told the Los Angeles Times that “the whole situation is unprecedented.” He pinned part of the blame on the media and part of the blame on the funeral director for removing Tsarnaev’s body from the medical examiner’s office before funeral arrangements were made.
“If you look back, historically, to cases of mass murderers and things of the like, usually after the death of the person involved, the media coverage of the person goes away … and the body is usually taken care of by the state or the next of kin, but it’s usually done very quietly,” said Walkinshaw, noting that cremation is a common route in such cases. However, cremation is typically disfavored in Islamic burial customs.
Questions about Tsarnaev’s radicalization, his travels abroad and the eventual trial of his brother, Dzhokhar, 19, for his role in the plot, have kept the bombing story in the news.
“This situation is so unique, all the way to the extent to when the body was removed from the medical examiner’s office it was chased by news helicopters down the” freeway, Walkinshaw said, adding, “I think probably the best thing that could’ve happened and to happen now is for everybody to quiet down about the whole thing and find a resolution.”