RICHMOND — Friday at dusk, Martha Mullen, 48, and her husband, Bill, 52, strolled in a grassy dog park in this Southern capital city. It had been a day unlike any other.
The Mullens were still trying to absorb the impact of her successful efforts to find a burial site for Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing suspect whose body had languished for nearly a week in a Worcester funeral home.
Shortly after the news about Mullen’s involvement had circulated, a local talk-radio host began berating her on the air, she said.
Mullen acknowledged that the secretive burial of Tsarnaev in an Islamic cemetery in nearby Doswell could produce more backlash, but she said she stands prepared.
“I felt a need to do something,” Mullen said. “I don’t see what good it does to stand outside and protest against a dead body. It’s an exercise in hatred and bigotry.”
Mullen said picketing outside the Worcester funeral home might have reflected anti-Muslim feelings that have grown out of more than a decade of war in the Middle East. Neither Adam Lanza, the Newtown, Conn., gunman, nor Seung Hui Cho, who shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, provoked that kind of outcry, she said.
The decision to help find a burial plot, Mullen said, is an outgrowth of her Methodist faith, which she said stresses the social gospel of taking religious beliefs out of the church and putting them into action.
‘I felt a need to do something. I don’t see what good it does to stand outside and protest against a dead body. It’s an exercise in hatred and bigotry.’
Mullen, who works in private practice as a mental health counselor to victims of trauma, said that when she heard about the Marathon bombings, she thought, “Oh, no, not again.” Tsarnaev died after an April 19 shoot-out with police in Watertown.
After seeing the protests in Worcester, Mullen sent e-mail to leaders of different faiths in the Richmond area, seeking a collective effort to find a burial plot for Tsarnaev. The e-mail generated a response from the Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia.
Mullen called Peter Stefan, the owner of Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors in Worcester, but felt that her offer would be lost in the multitude of telephone calls there. So she called Worcester Police Chief Gary J. Gemme and gave his secretary the contact information of the Islamic funeral service. But she did not hear back from the Worcester police.
Instead, Mullen said she was told the burial resulted from conversations among the Islamic funeral service in Virginia, Tsarnaev’s uncle, the Worcester funeral home owner, and Worcester police.
Tsarnaev’s uncle paid for the burial, she said. Mullen said she has no plans to visit the grave or make connections with the family. “A reason I decided to go ahead was so we could move past this festering wound of what to do with the body,” said Mullen.
As a counselor who deals with trauma, Mullen said, she wonders what violence the Tsarnaevs might have witnessed in the volatile Russian republic of Dagestan, where the family once lived, and whether greater tolerance in the United States toward Muslims would have made a difference in curbing their apparent radicalization.
“Maybe this whole thing could have been avoided,” she said. “It’s a horrible thing that happened in Boston, and I wish it hadn’t happened.”
Mullen did not seem surprised that she, and not high-profile political leaders, was able to help resolve the burial search.
“In a way, being a private citizen made it easier because I didn’t have an official badge and needed to have someone’s official blessing,” Mullen said. “In the end, this is a private matter.”