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The stealth mission that carried Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body out of Worcester

WORCESTER — As a group of vans moved in and out of the parking lot at Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors Wednesday night, one van left with a particular purpose.

The unmarked van carried the body of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. It glided out into the busy Main South traffic and past the throng of media vehicles that had been camped out in front of the funeral parlors for almost a week.

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The van belonging to Graham Putnam & Mahoney had arrived at the funeral home’s lot about 8:20 p.m. and had left a short time later without raising an eyebrow.

“We knew that at that time there would be activity and that is when we would move the body,” Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said.

“We were concerned with security issues. We wanted to make sure we were doing it as discreetly as possible and we wanted to ensure privacy for the family. Those are the things we were able to accomplish.”

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Because of the pack of media trucks and the heavy traffic, police thought around 8 p.m. would be a perfect time for the move.

The van then headed to a location mutually agreed upon by police; Ruslan Tsarni, Tsarnaev’s uncle; and the funeral home. It was described by the chief as a “location outside the city of Worcester and in close proximity to the Mass Turnpike.”

“We had officers in an unmarked vehicle to monitor the exchange of the body with the vehicle that ultimately transported the body to the final destination,” Chief Gemme said.

That final destination has since been revealed to be Doswell, Va. Those involved ensured that by the time word got out, the body would be buried.

Since police wanted to ensure the transfer went smoothly, they chose a location Chief Gemme described as a rest area.

As Tsarnaev’s body was being moved to its final burial site, Deputy Police Chief Steven M. Sargent stayed in regular contact with Tsarnaev’s uncle. No police vehicles followed.

Details had been worked out so that the burial site was prepared to accept the remains at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Shortly after the arrival, Tsarni called police to inform them the body was buried. The parties agreed that police would release limited information as soon as they received word. Honoring the uncle’s wishes, the final destination point was not to be disclosed, the chief said.

Police became involved in working out the details to move the body on Monday when Chief Gemme and Deputy Chief Sargent went to the funeral home to meet with funeral director Peter Stefan and Tsarni.

The chief said he wanted to get a feeling for what security would be needed, the plan for burial and any other logistics.

Deputy Chief Sargent then took over the role as point person, supervised the police detail and began working with Tsarni and the funeral home. As plans were being made, police said, a possible site came to light.

“We received information from the funeral parlor that a DOC [state Department of Correction] site was a possibility,” the chief said.

Although the DOC said in a statement Wednesday that a site was never offered, the chief disagreed.

Chief Gemme spoke with US Representative James P. McGovern to ask if the congressman could look into the DOC site and assist with any other possible sites. The chief then spoke to Kurt N. Schwartz, state undersecretary for Homeland Security and Emergency Management in the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

However, those plans did not move ahead because Chief Gemme said he wasn’t getting calls back from Schwartz on securing the DOC site.

With McGovern’s office continuing to assist, discussions moved into Tuesday. Police then received what the chief called a “very credible offer” for another burial site.

The offer was brought to Tsarni, who spoke to the individuals representing the site.

“The uncle went to this state, this site, and spoke to the individuals that were in charge of the site,” Chief Gemme said. “As Tuesday was developing, we were fairly optimistic that we either had this out-of-state site or a site with the Department of Corrections.”

With no response from the undersecretary of public safety, the chief was concerned the DOC site was evaporating. He tried to contact the undersecretary again, but got no response.

In the meantime, Tsarni called Deputy Chief Sargent to tell him there was resistance at the other site to support the burial. The chief described that site as being in a state bordering Massachusetts.

While the chief offered to intercede, his offer was turned down. Other possibilities began being vetted as Tuesday was winding down. A conference call with McGovern’s office was arranged to discuss the status of plans.

“The two prospects that we had seemed to have evaporated,” Chief Gemme said.

With the two possibilities gone, the chief met with Deputy Chief Sargent and his staff Wednesday.

The chief had been thinking about making a public appeal for assistance.

“I felt an obligation, one to address some of issues and concerns that seemed to be out there and two, to look for a resolution,” Chief Gemme said.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday the chief stood outside of the funeral home and asked for help from anyone with authority to come forward with a site.

“We are not barbarians,” the chief said at the news conference. “We bury the dead.”

He then headed inside the funeral home for a scheduled 10:30 a.m. meeting with Stefan and Tsarni.

After the public plea, police started getting what the chief called a “tremendous” amount of offers for assistance.

“One offer that came to the chief’s office and was given to Deputy Chief Steve Sargent was the location that we presented to the uncle as a viable possibility,” Chief Gemme said. “The uncle made a phone call, was very comfortable that this was a legitimate offer and a real possibility that this would be the burial site.”

Deputy Chief Sargent was tasked with working through the logistics and contacted Boston. Police officials asked for City Clerk David Rushford to help out the process.

Police worked with Tsarni and Stefan on how the body would be removed from the funeral home and how it would be transported to its final destination. After working out the plans for what became a brief shell game, Tsarnaev’s body was moved out of Worcester Wednesday night.

On Thursday morning, police made the announcement that the body was no longer in Worcester

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