Local woman coordinated Tsarnaev burial for nation to ‘move forward’

Posted at 11:56 PM, May 10, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-13 07:12:32-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--A Richmond  woman didn’t act alone when she arranged the quiet transport of Tamerlan Tsarneav's remains to an all-Muslim cemetery in Doswell, but she has now become the face of an interfaith group that intended to show a better side of America, and hopefully spearhead its healing by at least putting the Boston bomber suspect’s body to rest.

Martha Mullen, age 48, said that the recent protests in Worcester, Mass. over Tsarneav's remains struck a chord within.

“I think we need to remember that we are all, in the end, human, and we need to remember our common humanity,” she told CBS 6 in an interview Friday. ”As the police chief said in Worcester, we’re not barbarians, we bury the dead.”

She mulled over this sitting in Starbucks listening to an NPR report, and honed in on what she thought distinguished Tsarnaev  from Seung-Hui Cho,  Adam Lanza or Timothy McVeigh—all terrorists and killers of innocent people—and determined the only difference was that Tsarnaev was Muslim.

“After ten years now of being at war with Iraq and all of the people that have died because of the conflicts that we’ve been involved in, it seems to me that there is a lot of xenophobia in America, and um, particularly towards people who are seen as different,” she said.

Mullen, a licensed professional counselor who studied theology, wanted to end all the contention. So she reached out to different faith groups and proposed an interfaith resolution to find burial arrangements, and the Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia wrote back and they said they had discussed it themselves and would like to offer a burial place.

“I was just kind of facilitating getting people together to resolve this issue because I found it disturbing that it was an ongoing bone of contention, and I have relatives in Massachusetts.”

She had no contact with Tsarnaev’s family or his uncle. Mullen said she was told the FBI was notified. Many in the Commonwealth were surprised when the news broke early Friday, and both Islamic leaders and Caroline County officials were stunned and unhappy about the decision.

Caroline County officials distributed a statement to the media, saying they were not consulted about this, had no say in the matter and would prefer that Doswell be associated with “positive news reports.”

Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Mr. Floyd Thomas said that if the arrangement was followed legally, there is very little they can do. “We feel the same way most of the people in the county feel, most of the way America feels,” said Thomas. “We are actually—if you want to know how we feel—we’re very angry over the bombing.”

Sheriff Tony Lippa expressed concerned that the situation has become a “public safety” issue now. He would not go into specifics of security at the Muslim cemetery in Doswell, the first all-Muslim cemetery in Central Virginia, but he reminded the public that defacing property is a felony and trespassing after dark is a misdemeanor.

Mullen is acting as the spokesperson of the group that made the arrangements, though “I didn’t expect this much attention and this much backlash," she said.

“I think that it is understandable not to want him in your backyard,” she acknowledged. “I understand the fear, there is a lot of flak about me on the web, and it is what it is.”

"I take my faith seriously," she said. "And even though I think this boy did a horrific thing, he’s dead now and we need to move forward."

“At the end of the day I think that it was the right thing to do for all of us," she concluded.

by Alix Bryan. Follow on Twitter @alixbryan