Virginia woman has no regrets over role in bombing suspect burial

By Larry O'dell

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, May 11 2013 5:00 p.m. MDT

Flowers are placed on one of two newly dug graves at the Doswell, Va. cemetery where Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev is buried, Friday, May 10, 2013. Ruslan Tsarni, the uncle of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, said his nephew was buried in the cemetery north of Richmond. Tsarnaev was killed April 19 in a getaway attempt after a gun battle with police. His younger brother, Dzhokhar, was captured later and remains in custody. It is unknown which grave contains Tsarnaev's remains.

Luis Alvarez, Associated Press

DOSWELL, Va. — 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, and even some members of 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 Richmond.

"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."

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