WORCESTER, Mass. — Peter A. Stefan sat straight up in a leather chair in the funeral home he owns and looked purposefully at the city councilor who had come to ask him why he of all people was storing the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
“How did Worcester have to get involved in all this?” asked Sarai Rivera, who represents the city’s 4th District. Onlookers gathered outside, many incredulous that the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings had come to rest here.
“Why didn’t they send him to Russia?” Rivera asked.
“They didn’t want him either,” said Stefan, who heard last week from friends of Tsarnaev’s family. They wanted his body to go to a funeral home like his, which has experience doing Muslim burials.
“My first thought was to hide,” said Stefan, 66. “Initial reaction was, why do I need this?”
Tsarnaev was wounded in a gunfight with law officers, and then, law enforcement officials and witnesses said, was hit by a car his brother used to escape. His death certificate shows he died from gunshot wounds and blunt trauma to his head and torso, The Associated Press reported Friday night.
It seemed that nobody else wanted Tsarnaev’s body, said Stefan, who has experience laying some of society’s less venerated members to rest. “I’ve had murderers here, people that murder their kids, people that murder their parents,” he said. “A lot of hullabaloo that we’ve had here.”
So he had a two-hour meeting Thursday with Tsarnaev’s uncle Ruslan Tsarni and agreed to accept the body. It was released that afternoon but was mistakenly taken to another funeral home in North Attleboro, Mass., where protesters quickly lined up. Tsarnaev’s body was transported to Stefan’s funeral home, Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors, shortly afterward.
Stefan said Tsarni had requested a simple graveside service, after the body is washed in accordance with Muslim custom.
None of that can happen until Stefan finds a burial place; as of Friday afternoon, he had been turned down by several cemeteries.
“You call and they say, ‘We don’t want to do it,’” said Stefan, who said he would seek help from the FBI or the state if he continued to be rejected.
“I’m not burying a terrorist; I’m burying a dead body,” Stefan said. “We’re trying to exercise some character here.”