Does Tamerlan Tsarnaev deserve a proper burial?

Cemeteries are turning away the Boston Marathon bombing suspect's body. Would a decent funeral dishonor the attack's victims?

Protesters rally outside the Worcester, Mass., funeral parlor
(Image credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Funeral home owner Peter Stefan has accepted the body of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, but he's having trouble finding a cemetery willing to let him bury the remains. Tsarnaev's uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, traveled from his home in Maryland to see to burial rites at Stefan's Worcester, Mass., mortuary. Tsarni said he understands that "no one wants to associate their names with such evil events," but that a proper burial is what tradition, religion, and morals require. A small group of protesters outside Stefan's business argue that given the toll of the attack, "this terrorist" doesn't deserve to be buried on U.S. soil.

Not everyone puts it in such terms, but plenty of people share the protesters' sentiments. Robert Healy — city manager in Cambridge, Mass., where Tsarnaev lived — said it wouldn't be "in the best interest of 'peace within the city'" to bury Tsnarnaev there. The attack killed three people and injured hundreds more. "It's not much of a mystery why cemetery owners would be loathe" to give Tsarnaev a final resting place, says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. A marked burial site for Tsarnaev could create problems well into the future.

It means that they will have to increase security for a long time to come to keep the site from being repeatedly vandalized. Another worry might be that the gravesite might become a weird sort of shrine for fans of violent jihad or just violence in general. Needless to say, that won't make the families of loved ones already buried in a cemetery very happy, and it's likely to bring an end to any future business the cemetery might get, too. [Hot Air]

Legally, though, there's not much to debate. "Like most states, Massachusetts law provides that 'every dead body of a human being dying within the commonwealth ... shall be decently buried," entombed, or cremated within a reasonable time, says Tanya D. Marsh at The Huffington Post. "The person having custody of the remains is charged with carrying out this obligation. In Tsarnaev's case, his uncle appears to have taken responsibility for his remains after Tsarnaev's wife refused." How he accomplishes this, however, is his problem. "Tsarnaev's are not the first infamous set of remains posing these questions." Timothy McVeigh, Adam Lanza, Dylan Klebold, and Ted Bundy were cremated, but that's not an option with Tsarnaev, as he was a Muslim and, generally, observant Muslims frown on cremation as a means of disposing of human remains.

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Some say the solution is burying Tsarnaev in an undisclosed, unmarked place. Community activist William T. Breault, chairman of the Main South Alliance for Public Safety, has another idea. He's reportedly setting up a fund to collect donations to send Tsarnaev's body to his native Kyrgyzstan, or the Dagestan region of Russia, where his parents live. The cost, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, would be $3,000 to $7,000. "I don't look at it as I'm helping his family," Breault said. "I look at it as I'm helping the citizens of Boston, Worcester, and this state move on from this problem."

It shouldn't be this complicated, says Mathew N. Schmalz at The Washington Post. As Stefan, the funeral home owner, says, "We are burying a dead body. That's what we do." Society entrusts certain people with unwanted tasks. One is burying the dead. "Someone has to do it."

One can interpret this as a simple bureaucratic fact, but it attests to something deeper. "I cannot separate the sin from the sinner," Stefan explained. And he's right — none of us can. I doubt if we'll ever fully know how to place Tamerlan Tsarnaev and understand the connections between his actions and his person. And putting him in the ground is not going to bring closure to his many victims. But we all do return to the ground inevitably. Burying Tamerlan Tsarnaev is paradoxically an act of faith and hope, affirming that a connection exists between us all, even though that connection may itself be buried and hidden from our sight. [Washington Post]

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.