Tamerlan Tsarnaev has been dead for two and a half weeks, but his family is still having problems figuring out what to do with his body, and not just because this is Boston and Boston is strong: A complex web of potential protests, social media-fueled burial outsourcing, and legal technicalities are making sure the late marathon bombing suspect begins his final rest in anything but peace. Turns out, he may have to be buried in Massachusetts anyway. As Tsarnaev's body undergoes the first steps of the traditional Islamic postmortem process, Massachusetts cemeteries and mosques have refused to partake in the process of burying, and now it looks like Russia — what was supposed to be the final option — might not even be an option at all. The city of Cambridge, where Tsarnaev lived, has formally told the Tsarnaev family not to ask for a burial in their city, the Associated Press reports.
And on morals and public reaction alone, it's not that difficult to see the holdup: This is a man who is allegedly responsible for injuring more than 260 people, smashing people's lives and limbs, and killing four people. Leaders of the Boston-area mosque which Tamerlan attended has refused to hold a funeral for him, NBC News reported in the days following his death after a shootout in Watertown — and considering the hate directed toward Muslims after the Tsarnaev brothers were identified (and before, actually), you can't exactly blame them. And as we analyzed over the weekend, a number of cemeteries throughout the state have already denied transfer requests from a funeral parlor where Tsarnaev's body is being held. Cemeteries in nearby states like New Jersey and Connecticut also denied requests to bury him. There was one report that a mosque in Colorado would allow his burial, but members of that community sharply rebuked it.
Perhaps a foundation for all this trepidation is that Tsarnaev's burial place is widely expected to become a site of a protest, perhaps an ugly one. Protesters have already staked out the funeral home where Tsarnaev's body is being held. "A small number of demonstrators had protested at the funeral home over the weekend, holding signs and chanting 'USA!' One sign read: 'Do not bury him on U.S. soil,'" reports NBC News, while the AP notes that someone over the weekend shouted, "Throw him off a boat like Osama bin Laden!" Indeed, those public standoffs and increased media attention were some of the reasons cited by the city of Cambridge: "The difficult and stressful efforts of the citizens of the City of Cambridge to return to a peaceful life would be adversely impacted by the turmoil, protests, and wide spread media presence at such an interment," Cambridge City Manager Robert Healy said in statement picked up by the AP.
So why not send the body overseas? That would probably be the safest option. In fact, a group from Worcester, Massachusetts, has already started a Kickstarter for just that, and Tamerlan's mother reportedly wants his body buried back home. "But Worcester funeral home director Peter Stefan said despite the request, he doesn't think Russia will take Tsarnaev's body and he is working on other arrangements. He declined to be more specific," reported the AP. Tsarnaev's relatives recently visited the funeral parlor and began the process of washing and wrapping his body in the traditional Islamic fashion, The Boston Globe reported. (The tradition does not allow for cremation.)
For now, then, the search for a plot turns back to Cambridge. As The New York Times's Katharine Seelye and Jess Bidgood report, Adam Lanza killed some 26 people, including 20 children, but he was buried in an undisclosed location in the U.S., while Alberto DeSalvo (a.k.a. the Boston Strangler) was buried in Peabody, Massachusetts. And technically Cambridge can't not bury Tsarnaev on city soil, even if it would be frowned upon by local officials and citizens — Massachusetts law says so, at least officially. From the AP:
Massachusetts law requires every community to provide a suitable place to bury its residents, she said. Cambridge's appeal to the family not to ask it to bury the body is likely a way to set up its defense if the family goes to court to try to force the burial ...
Such a case would be unprecedented in Massachusetts, she said [Tanya Marsh, a Wake Forest professor and expert on the law of human remains]. She added that even in a country that's had its share of notorious accused killers, this kind of opposition to a burial is unheard of and is exposing holes in the law, Marsh said.