Katherine Russell was devoted enough to Tamerlan Tsarnaev to convert to his religion when he was a champion boxer, but she declined to claim his body as he lay in the coroner’s office after becoming a terrorist bomber.
She instead released the remains to an uncle of Tamerlan’s who had very publicly declared that his nephew had fully merited his violent death.
“He deserved this,” the uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, had announced to reporters.
Tsarni included Tamerlan’s still living brother, Dzhokhar, in his judgment.
“They don’t deserve to live,” the uncle said.
And the uncle did not believe that the brothers had been answering the call of their religion.
“What I think was behind it: being losers,” Tsarni said.
He would seem to be the last person to whom Russell would have entrusted Tamerlan’s body if she were still at all devoted to him.
It is possible she was afraid of adding to speculation that she might be complicit in the bombing of the Boston Marathon. Imagine the tumult if she had claimed the body and sought to bury him in accordance with her adopted faith, tumult that could have impacted her now fatherless 3-year-old daughter.
It is also possible that her devotion had reached its limit. Her feelings for him seem to have survived him calling her a slut and a prostitute for not dressing in accordance with his newly embraced notions of modesty at a pool party. She continues even now to dress in keeping with Muslim strictures whenever she ventures out. But even if she remains true to her adopted faith, her allegiance to him may have ceased with his murder of innocents. Her parents may have been speaking truthfully for her as well as themselves in the statement they released after their son-in-law was named as a bomber, killed a cop, and died in a shootout
"Our daughter has lost her husband today, the father of her child. We cannot begin to comprehend how this horrible tragedy occurred,” the statement read. "In the aftermath of the Patriots' Day horror we know that we never really knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev.”
At the same time, the uncle who had condemned Tamerlan as a murderous loser who deserved his bloody demise also declared that a nephew is still a nephew.
“Of course, family members will take possession of the body," Tsarni told the Associated Press. “We’ll do it. We will do it. A family is a family.”
Tsarni contacted Peter Stefan, a funeral director in Worcester, Massachusetts, who was known to have handled Muslim burials. Stefan had in the past taken it upon himself to provided funerals for the indigent and the homeless, but this required charitableness far beyond the monetary.
Stefan took the view that a body is a body and it was his duty to bury the dead the same way it is a doctor's duty to treat the sick and the injured.
But, in the case of Tamerlan, Stefan had difficulty finding a cemetery willing to take the same view.
‘‘I keep bringing up the point of Lee Harvey Oswald, Timothy McVeigh, or Ted Bundy,’’ Stefan told reporters. “Somebody had to do those, too.”
Oswald had indeed been buried, alongside his mother in the farthest edge of a Fort Worth, Texas, cemetery where the workers are under standing instructions not to direct visitors to the grave. A flat rectangular marker reads only “Oswald." A small marker was placed beside it around 1998 reading “Nick Beef,” only that grave is apparently empty and the identify of whoever purchased is a mystery the cemetery declines to resolve.
But the bodies of both the Oklahoma City bomber McVeigh and the serial killer Bundy went unclaimed after their executions. The authorities finally had them cremated and their ashes were scattered.
That is not an option for Tamerlan, as Islamic law prohibits cremation. What is permitted is burial at sea, as was done with Osama bin Laden, who certainly killed many more innocents than Tamerlan.
But Tamerlan had been killed in America while living among us, and has subsequently been treated like any other murderer who dies in the commission of a crime, his corpse released to his uncle, who seems bent on consigning his nephew to the earth.
Stefan himself has no problems with burial at sea. He has voiced full support for legislation in the Massachusetts State Legislature that would accord this as an option for funeral directors who find themselves with cremated remains that go unclaimed. Stefan has said that he has several hundred such remains left behind not due to any notoriety on the part of the deceased but because in a bad economy the survivors do not have the $900 needed for a cemetery plot.
Meanwhile, Tamerlan's widow continues to be under constant surveillance by federal agents who remain unconvinced of her total innocence even it is reportedly not her DNA found on a bomb part. She has stopped talking to the feds on the advice of her lawyer, but not before she told the agents that the last time she saw Tamerlan was on April 18 when she set off for another long day as a home health aide, the three days just after the bombing and before authorities released pictures of the Tsarnaev brothers. The agents wonder about a text she sent Tamerlan after he and his brother became the most wanted men in America.
One thing that seems clear is that Tamerlan made little or no effort to find a job himself during their last months togther. He had plenty of time to make bombs between jaunts with their daughter to the playground. He may have done his deadly work while the toddler took her afternoon nap—Mr. Mom becoming Mr. Bomb.
The agents would find traces of explosives on the kitchen sink and in the bathtub, but it is possible that Tamerlan was able to put everything away before his wife returned. That might help explain why he decided to bomb the marathon rather than wait for the Fourth of July once the bombs were built with unexpected alacrity.
One thing the al Qaeda online magazine Inspire that apparently served as Tamerlan’s bomb-making guide does not address is how to explain three pressure-cooker bombs to the wife.
Or even just the makings? How does a husband explain that he felt the sudden need to buy three pressure cookers? Or that he bought $200 in fireworks in February when he is out of work? Does he say it was a two-for-one sale and would prove a big saving when he used it on the Fourth of July?
Then again, how could he have managed to keep the bombs hidden from her, along with the pistol and the homemade grenades?
The answers to these questions may determine the end of a tale that begins with the daughter of a Phillips Exeter Academy alum and Yale-educated doctor becoming so taken with a Muslim boxer that she converts to his religion.
And the way this plays out will decide whether a little girl grows up with an absent mother as well as a dead father so reviled that his once-devoted wife declined to claim his body and cemetery after cemetery refused to bury him.