Three miles from the nearest interstate highway, at the end of a quiet gravel road off Sadie Lane in Doswell, Virginia, lies the body of accused Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
The 26-year-old ethnic Chechen, who was killed in a gunfight with police in Watertown, Massachusetts, after April’s blasts, rests in an unmarked grave at Al-Barzakh Islamic Cemetery.
Until news reports surfaced about Tsarnaev’s Thursday morning burial, most town residents, including those living next to the cemetery, were oblivious to their new neighbor.
Brittaney Few learned on Friday that one of the most hated men in America—previously held hundreds of miles away in Worcester, Massachusetts—was now buried just down the street. “I found out on Instagram,” Few said. “I went out to my car and drove down the street to see if it was for real or not.”
Eloise Romeine lives four houses down from the cemetery and learned about the burial when her cousin called. “I really don’t like it bringing him here,” Romeine said. “We all feel the same way. Lots of people were hurt and legs were blown off in Boston. It’s not good.”
Although most neighbors didn’t know, Charles Abdel-Alim was alerted days beforehand to the possibility of Tsarnaev’s burial just feet from his house. Abdel-Alim’s home is in front of the cemetery, and he can view the red, mulch-topped graves from his back lawn. A practicing Muslim, Charles told The Daily Beast that he had welcomed the the burial.
“It’s an obligation for us to bury our dead. It’s as simple as that. The decision was not mine,” Abdel-Alim said. “Any Muslim is aware of that.”
The Islamic Society of Greater Richmond took on the responsibility of facilitating the transfer and burial of Tsarnaev’s remains to its Doswell cemetery. Tsarnaev’s body arrived in through the well-meaning intentions of Virginia resident Martha Mullen, a devout Christian who heard on the news that no cemetery would accept him.
Over a decade ago, Abdel-Alim donated the land that is now the ceremony to the Islamic society for use as a burial ground. Despite his welcoming of a fellow Muslim’s burial, residents on the street barely even knew the cemetery existed.
“I did not know that he had 50 graves back there,” Few said. “It’s just amazing. [Tsarnaev] could have gone anywhere else. They could have asked the community what they thought about it before they just let him be buried.”
The small community of Doswell and the surrounding Caroline county are still coming to terms with their new notoriety.
“What we’re seeing is the gamut of emotions. Some say we should do whatever we can do to have him interned somewhere else,” Caroline County Board of Supervisors member Floyd Thomas told The Daily Beast. “We were not given any advanced notice. We were not asked for permission. In this particular case, with the added attention and security needed, an advanced warning notice would have been necessary.” Thomas says he expects the community to act in some way.
“I’ve heard about a petition. I would imagine there will be more comments,” he said.
Ian Hogin, a Burger King employee who works just a few miles from the burial site and lives even closer, says neighbors are furious.
“Folks are really unhappy about it. They just told us they buried this guy here,” he said.
The sheriff’s department and all Caroline County officials were also unaware of Tsarneav’s proximity. Private cemeteries do not have to alert authorities or seek approval prior to a burial.
“Caroline County was not consulted or given any input into the decision-making process for determining a burial site for this individual,” county administrator Charles Culley Jr. said in a statement. “We would much prefer to be associated with positive news reports from the national media, but unfortunately had no say in the matter.”
Sadie Lane residents feel powerless to change a decision that was made without them and worry that Tsarnaev’s body will forever be buried on their sleepy street.
“It’s scary at times. I have a child. [The protests] are probably just going to subside,” said Few, throwing up her hands in exasperation. “But right now it’s the talk of the road. We’re just surprised, very surprised.”