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Cambridge won’t bury Marathon bombing suspect

Fears an uproar at cemetery; uncle insists city was Tsarnaev’s home

Ruslan Tsarni, uncle of the Marathon bombing suspects, spoke to media Sunday outside the Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors in Worcester.Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

Cambridge officials on Sunday said they would not allow the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev to be buried in the city’s cemetery, the latest chapter in a complicated saga to determine who is responsible for burying the body of the accused Boston Marathon bomber.

Ruslan Tsarni, Tsarnaev’s uncle, on Sunday said he believed his nephew should be buried in Cambridge, despite calls from protesters to send his body overseas.

“He lived in America. He grew up here and for the last 10 years he decided to be in Cambridge, therefore any contemplation that the body should be taken to a home country. . . . his home country is Cambridge, Mass.,” Tsarni said. “Tamerlan Tsarnaev has no other place to be buried.’’


Tsarnaev, along with his younger brother, Dzhokhar, is believed to have planted two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring more than 260. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being held in a federal detention center at Fort Devens.

Since Friday, Tsarnaev’s body has been at Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors in Worcester. After a handful of local cemeteries rejected requests to bury Tsarnaev, Peter Stefan, director of the funeral home, said he believed that the city of Cambridge was legally obligated to bury Tsarnaev at the municipal cemetery.

But City Manager Robert W. Healy issued a statement Sunday urging the family not to apply for a Cambridge burial permit. Healy said he is responsible for maintaining peace in the city, which could be disturbed by such a burial.

“The difficult and stressful efforts of the residents of the city of Cambridge to return to a peaceful life would be adversely impacted by the turmoil, protests, and widespread media presence at such an interment,” Healy said in his statement.

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation has had the lead jurisdiction, and now, other appropriate federal agencies should take the lead in the burial of this individual,” he wrote.


Stefan — who said he has been turned away by four private cemeteries, including two in Boston, that have special sections for Muslim burials — agreed.

“I’m going to go to the governor and the FBI and say, ‘You need to stop playing games with this,’ ” Stefan said Sunday evening, after Tsarnaev’s family had spent hours washing and wrapping his body in the Muslim tradition, in preparation for burial.

FBI spokesman Gregory Comcowich called the situation “unprecedented,” adding that it is unclear whether the agency has any authority to intervene.

Family members had been expected to have a second autopsy conducted on Sunday, but it is not known whether any further examination of Tsarnaev’s body took place.

Tsarni and three other men arrived Sunday afternoon to prepare the body for burial according to Islamic burial practices. The body, which was first partially prepared by funeral home embalmers, was washed and prayed over for hours by the men.

According to tradition, once the body is washed, no further medical examination can be conducted without violating religious tradition, Stefan said.

“Once that body is washed and shrouded, the only place we’re going after that is to the cemetery,” he said.

Later in the evening, Stefan said he would still apply for a Cambridge burial permit.

“What does the city want me to do with his body?” he said.

As cemeteries publicly rejected the burial requests, one increasingly likely option is that Tsarnaev’s body will end up in a private burial plot quietly donated to the family.


Stefan said he has fielded calls from multiple would-be donors, offering plots in New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Ohio. However, he said the family’s preference is to bury Tsarnaev in a Muslim-designated plot in Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, a local Worcester man said he plans to open a bank account to raise money to send Tsarnaev’s body back to Russia.

William T. Breault, chairman of the Main South Alliance for Public Safety in Worcester, said in a press release he will donate $500 to kick off the fund-raising effort.

He said two Worcester-area funeral directors told him they estimate it would cost between $3,000 and $7,000 to send the body back to Russia.

The FBI continued investigations in Cambridge on Norfolk Street, where Tsarnaev had lived, officials said.

The court-authorized search was related to the Marathon bombings, said Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for US Attorney Carmen Ortiz.

Tsarni, who lives in Maryland, said he would remain in Massachusetts until the burial was sorted out. After spending hours treating Tsarnaev’s body, Tsarni emerged in a solemn, reflective state.

“I can’t describe it,” Tsarni said of the body-washing process. “What’s done is done.”

In silence, he walked up the funeral home’s creaky staircase.

“Strong or weak, shame finds you,” Tsarni said as he readied to leave just before 9 p.m. “It does not discriminate.”

Three others have been arrested in the investigation of the Marathon bombings, accused of helping Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after the fact. One of them, Robel Phillipos, 19, of Cambridge, is scheduled for a detention hearing Monday in US District Court in Boston.


Six people filed affidavits in federal court Sunday night in support of releasing Phillipos, including a principal and teacher at a former school he attended, the head of a summer program Phillipos was enrolled in one summer, and an educational researcher who monitored classes Phillipos attended. Eight other letters of support for him were filed Saturday.

Wesley Lowery can be reached at wesley.lowery@globe.com. Globe correspondent Matt Rocheleau contributed to this report.