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Burial of Tamerlan Tsarneav’s body caught Virginia officials by surprise

DOSWELL, Va. - The Muslim cemetery where the remains of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev now lie is located off a gravel road in a region of central Virginia known for thoroughbreds, the Civil War, and the Kings Dominion amusement park.

The Al-Barzakh Cemetery currently has 47 marked graves and four unmarked graves, one of which presumably now contains Tsarnaev’s body. Tsarnaev was buried here after his remains spent nearly a week in a Worcester funeral home, while relatives and funeral director Peter Stefan searched for a cemetery willing to accept the alleged terrorist’s body.

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Tsarnaev’s burial caught officials in Caroline County by surprise, including Sheriff Tony Lippa, who arrived at the cemetery around 1:30 p.m. today, searching for someone at the cemetery to speak with.

Asked if he was blindsided by the burial, he said, “Of course, I am. Can’t you tell?”

He walked up to a neighboring house, where he thought the owner of the cemetery lived. No one answered the door.

In a statement, Caroline County Administrator Charles M. Culley Jr. said he had no say in the decision to bury Tsarnaev’s body in Doswell.

“Caroline County was not consulted or given any input into the decision-making process for determining a burial site for this individual,” Culley said. “We had no advanced notice of the decision and unfortunately learned of the selection of a burial site through the media.”

Doswell, an unincorporated village in Virginia, is bisected by Caroline and Hanover counties and lies roughly 25 miles north of Richmond.

“We would much prefer to be associated with positive news reports from the national media, but unfortunately had no say in the matter,” Culley said in the statement.

In a telephone interview, Gary Wilson, the Caroline County director of economic development and tourism, would not comment specifically on Tsarnaev’s burial location, but said the county’s residents have shared Boston’s pain in the bombings’ aftermath.

“Caroline County plays ‘Sweet Caroline,’ too, though not with the same regularity as Boston does,” Wilson said, referring to the Neil Diamond song played during the eighth inning of every Red Sox home game. “Now, we think of it differently, in solidarity with Boston.”

The gravesite is several miles off Interstate 95, past Kings Dominion, an amusement park with a fake miniature Eiffel Tower and several rollercoasters and in a region where legendary Triple Crown thoroughbred winner Secretariat was born.

On the way to the cemetery, there’s a green and white sign off the road that reads, “Al-Barzakh Islamic Cemetery.”

There are electric power lines overhead and one of the amusement park roller coasters is visible in the distance. This afternoon before news of the Tsarnaev burial was widely known, the cemetery was quiet, except for the chirping of some birds and the sounds coming from trucks from local television stations parked nearby.

But word was beginning to spread.

One man heard it on the news and drove out near the site. But he didn’t want to see the grave, saying if he did he would spit upon it.

“They should have burned him and sent him back to his mama,” said Wayne Pierce, a 61-year-old restaurant owner. “I just can’t believe this. I don’t know how they slipped him in like this.”

At the nearby Frog Level Market, reaction was mixed among shoppers who now face the prospect of seeing their community, which boasts of its connection to the famous racehorse, will now be known as the resting place for an alleged domestic terrorist.

“He’s a Muslim. We don’t need that here,” Margaret Stevens, a 68-year-old-retiree, said as she bought items at the market. “All that stuff started in Boston. It’s just not right. They shouldn’t have brought him. It didn’t happen here.”

She added, “I don’t care what they do with [the body] as long as they don’t bury him here.”

Robert Carter, a 66-year-old retiree who had just emerged from the same market, was more indifferent.

“I’m just kind of surprised,” he said. “Me? I wouldn’t [bury the body]. But if somebody feels like they should do it, it’s their rights.”

According to Martha Mullen, a 48-year-old Richmond woman, she was upset by the protests in Worcester at the Stefan funeral home and decided to help find a place for the suspected terrorist to be buried. She reached out to Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia, which agreed within an hour to provide a burial plot at its cemetery here, the Globe reported today.

Wesley Lowery and John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com. Lauren Dezenski can be reached at lauren.dezenski@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenDezenski..
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