When he heard Thursday that suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev had finally been interred 19 days after his death, Brad White was relieved but worried.
White, who runs the largest at-sea burial business in New England, had kept a close watch on the escalating controversy as cemeteries rejected burial for Tsarnaev's body. He spoke Wednesday with the Worcester, Mass. funeral director who had possession of the body, in order to offer his services.
"I talked with one of the funeral directors in Worcester yesterday, and I said 'Are you making any progress?' He said 'I am pretty sure this will come to an end soon but we don't have any plans,'" White recounted. "I'm glad this is all over with, but now it's unfortunately going to be a witch hunt."
The City of Worcester announced Thursday that Tsarnaev's body, which had been held at Graham Putnam and Mahoney Funeral Parlors for six days, had been "entombed" at an undisclosed location outside the city, and thanked the anonymous "courageous and compassionate individual" who came forward to help with the burial. In later statements, the funeral home added that the body had been taken out of Massachusetts.
But after days of protests and police patrols outside the Worcester funeral home, and after cemeteries in several states and the cities of Boston and Cambridge rejected Tsarnaev's burial, funeral directors and cemetery operators say they are concerned that Americans who are angry about burying a suspected terrorist on U.S. soil will now try to find and desecrate the (for-now) secret grave.
"I think what happened within the last several hours is something that should have happened 10 days ago without fanfare, without soundbytes," said Bob Biggins, a former president of the National Funeral Directors Association and the owner of Magoun-Biggins Funeral Home in Rockland, Mass. "That's what we as funeral directors are supposed to do -- we don't make public what we are doing or how we are serving a family."
"But death certificates are a public record," he added, and in Massachusetts, as is typical of many states, the certificates specify not only when and how a person died, but when, where and how the body was laid to rest.
"The death certificate would have been filed in Boston, where he was pronounced dead. The city would have to issue a burial permit for any burial to take place, regardless of which state it's in," Biggins said. "The death certificate can be obtained if requested, but there may be an exception in this case to making the location of burial or the certificate itself public."
Peter Stefan, the Worcester funeral director who handled the funeral arrangements, told reporters last week that he had received the death certificate from the state medical examiner, which listed Tsarnaev's cause of death as “gunshot wounds of torso and extremities” and “blunt trauma to the head and torso." At the time, the certificate had not been submitted to the city of Boston, and it did not list a burial location.
Phone and email requests on Thursday to the Boston clerk's office for updated information on the death certificate filing were not returned. Anne Roach, a spokeswoman for the Massachusett's Department of Health, which oversees the Registry of Vital Statistics, said the office would not have a copy of the death certificate until June 10 at the latest, as cities and towns are required to file death certificates with the state by the 10th day of each month.
Several individuals throughout the U.S. had come forward in recent weeks through news reporters, social media and blogs to offer private burial plots for Tsarnaev's body, but none said publicly on Thursday that they were involved in a burial.
"With all the public declarations they certainly knew they had permission to use my plot. I have not been notified they have done so," said Paul Keane, a Vermont resident who had made headlines for making an appeal on his blog to bury the body for free next to his mother's grave at Carmel Burying Ground in Hamden, Conn.
Another high-profile offer had come from Sheikh Abu-Omar Almubarac, a Muslim in the Denver area who had said he would do a free Islamic burial in an Muslim cemetery. "There has been no (involvement) and I have not been asked nor have we had a burial here," he said.
It's also unclear what kind of final resting place Tsarnaev's body was given. Stefan, the funeral home director, did not pick up his phone Thursday, and the city of Worcester's use of the word "entombed" in its statement left it ambiguous as to the kind of ceremony Tsarnaev received. The word can specifically mean putting a body or an urn with ashes in an above-ground burial chamber or vault that requires no digging, but it can also broadly mean any kind of after-death ceremony, including cremation and burial.
In Islam, the religion of Tsarnaev and his family, Muslims are typically buried in simple ceremonies with unadorned, flat grave markers that only have a name and Quranic verses. Bodies are supposed to be put in the ground wrapped in a shroud with no casket, with the grave perpendicular to Mecca and with the head of the deceased facing Mecca if possible. Cremation is frowned upon in Islam. Prior to burial, there is a ritual washing and prayer. Rusan Tsarni, an uncle who lives in Maryland, did the washing for Tsarnaev's body, according to Stefan.
Tsarnaev isn't the first suspected murderer to have a funeral and burial in the U.S. The bodies or ashes of Newtown, Conn. shooter Adam Lanza, Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho, Columbine High School shooter Dylan Klebold and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh were all buried or scattered in the U.S. with little fanfare.
"There are an awful lot of bad people who are buried here, people who have committed all sorts of atrocities," Biggins said. "But that is not what's important, what's important is that we are civilized society and we bury the dead."