DOSWELL, Va. — Martha Mullen was on her way to Starbucks on Tuesday when she heard on the radio that Massachusetts officials couldn’t find a cemetery willing to bury Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
“My first thought was, Jesus says love your enemies and not hate them after they’re dead,” Mullen, a Richmond mental health counselor and seminary school graduate, said Friday.
“My second thought was, okay, we can bury Adam Lanza, you know. Or the guy who shot up [Virginia] Tech,” added Mullen, 48. “And this guy for some reason is different. And the only difference that I can tell is that people think that he’s a terrorist or he’s a foreigner or he’s Muslim.”
Her third thought: Maybe she could help. With a flurry of e-mails and calls to faith leaders in Richmond and police officials in Massachusetts, she wound up facilitating Tsarnaev’s burial at a small Islamic cemetery in Doswell.
Having reached out to Jewish, Hindu and Muslim leaders, as well as her own Methodist pastor, Mullen hoped that Tsarnaev’s burial in a plot she located in central Virginia would demonstrate “the peaceful side of faith in action.”
But as news came Friday that the bombing suspect had been quietly interred in Doswell, some residents and officials recoiled at the idea that their community would provide Tsarnaev’s final resting place.
“He shouldn’t have rest,” said Harold Nelson, 53, an elevator mechanic. “I hope his soul is in eternal damnation. He took a lot of innocent life, and [there is] no reason for that.”
Said Charlotte Cropper, a 60-year-old retail clerk: “I think they should have shipped him back to wherever he came from, or did him like they did bin Laden and drop him in the ocean.”
Some residents said they did not want the area, best known as the birthplace of Triple Crown winner Secretariat, linked to a much darker chapter in sports history. The largely rural community is home to Kings Dominion theme park and the Virginia State Fair. Tsarnaev’s grave site is not the sort of local feature officials welcome.
“Caroline County was not consulted or given any input into the decision-making process for determining a burial site for this individual,” County Administrator Charles M. Culley Jr. said in a statement. “We would much prefer to be associated with positive news reports from the national media but unfortunately had no say in the matter.”
Hanover County Board of Supervisors Chairman W. Canova Peterson wanted to make it clear that although the Doswell address crosses over the border between Hanover and Caroline counties, the burial ground is in Caroline. He was not pleased that the cemetery had agreed to take the body.
“What I think is they should have cremated him and put in the Boston municipal dump with the rest of the trash,” Peterson said, adding, “I’m being facetious.”
Peterson said he doubted that any Virginians would make a fuss over the burial by vandalizing. “I don’t expect that at all, particularly from people around here,” he said in a telephone interview.
Kristen Averette, a clerk at Doswell’s 7-Eleven, expressed concern that the grave site would attract family, friends and perhaps terror-minded admirers of Tsarnaev’s. “It’s bringing terror here,” said Averette, 32. “People are crazy. We don’t need to have a [terrorist] buried right down the road from our amusement park.”
Tsarnaev was buried at Al-Barzakh Cemetery, about three miles east of Kings Dominion. A handsome white sign for the cemetery sits out front, along a wooded lane dotted with trailer homes and ranchers. The cemetery itself, down a long gravel driveway, has about 50 grave sites, all but two covered in red mulch and bearing modest markers with names and dates. There were two unmarked graves, covered with fresh dirt, neither with markers. One had a bouquet of red roses on top.
News trucks and photographers flocked to the site Friday, until a cemetery representative shooed them away. Bukhari Abdel-Alim, vice president of Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia, the nonprofit organization that owns the site, declined to say which of the graves Tsarnaev occupied.
“Why did you all accept him?” a TV reporter asked. “People here in Caroline County are very upset.”
Abdel-Alim replied: “I’m not sure everybody in Caroline knows yet, so let’s not speculate or cause any bad media or anything like that.”
He referred questions to Mullen, who said that the private cemetery offered the plot in response to one of her e-mails. She then let Massachusetts officials know a plot was available.
Della Coleman, 75, lives a few doors down from the cemetery in a gray trailer. She was entertained by the sight of TV trucks parading down her normally quiet street all day, but she was not the least bit concerned that a bombing suspect was buried near her home.
“Don’t bother me at all,” she said. “I guess it would bother some people ’cause of what he did.”
Coleman, a retired hospital aide who grew up nearby, said the owners of the cemetery had been good neighbors. “The people are good to me,” she said. “That’s their place. They can do what they want.”
Eddy Palanzo and Sue Noftsinger contributed to this report.