Even criminals ought to have a final resting place

Posted Tuesday, May. 14, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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sanders Two or three times a year, I drop by a Fort Worth cemetery to visit the grave of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

I never knew Oswald, but I got to know his mother over the years, and I knew she loved him. She is now buried next to him.

He had been on my mind for several days before I went to the grave site Monday, partly because of the controversy surrounding attempts to bury another notorious figure, alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Authorities believe Tsarnaev conspired with his brother to detonate explosives that killed three people and injured more than 200 others April 15.

Tsarnaev was killed in a shoot-out with police April 19. It was two weeks before a Worcester, Mass., funeral home accepted the body, but cemeteries throughout the state and in other places refused to permit burial after vocal protests from area residents.

People didn’t want a “terrorist” interred in their hometowns.

An interfaith coalition in Virginia stepped in to help by arranging for Tsarnaev’s burial in a small Muslim cemetery in Doswell, Va., about 30 miles north of Richmond, according to press reports. Although it was a private ceremony, it is believed he was buried the morning of May 9.

While I can understand people’s anger toward a person they believe committed a heinous act, I can’t comprehend the bitterness — the hatred — that compels one to object to a person being buried.

There are numerous criminals who have been afforded proper funerals and burials, and whose graves have not desecrated the cemeteries where they lie. Oswald, whose funeral director solicited news reporters to serve as pallbearers at his graveside service, is just one example, and I don’t recall any protests to deny him a final resting place.

Although the infamous Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are now folk heroes to many, they were also killers. Both are buried in Dallas, in different cemeteries. The Depression-era gangster known as Machine Gun Kelly rests in Cottondale (Wise County), and Charles Whitman, who went on a shooting rampage from the University of Texas tower in 1966, is interred in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Sueng-Hui Cho, the shooter in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, in which 32 were killed and 17 wounded, was buried in Fairfax County, Va.

Then there’s Larry Gene Ashbrook, the man who interrupted a youth rally at Wedgwood Baptist Church in 1999 and opened fire, killing seven and wounding seven others before killing himself. I’m not sure where he is buried, but there were reports the family was able to make private funeral arrangements.

Of course, the families of some mass murderers and serial killers take burial (and any controversy that might come with it) out of the question by having the remains cremated. So it was with convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh; Richard Speck, who killed eight nurses in Chicago; Jeffrey Dahmer, the killer of about 16 boys and men (he cannibalized some); Columbine shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris; and John Allen Muhammad, one of the two Beltway snipers who terrified the Washington, D.C., area for days in 2002.

For Tsarnaev, cremation was not an option, because his Muslim religion does not condone it. So, he had to be buried. Unfortunately, it is likely that his religion also was part of the reason some people wanted to deny him burial in their city and state.

There might have been little objection had he been buried at sea like Osama bin Laden. But, thank God and some good people in Virginia, it wasn’t necessary for anyone to consider that alternative.

It’s natural to be outraged over what happened in Boston and to voice contempt for Tsarnaev’s younger brother, Dzhokhar, as he awaits trial.

But we must not allow our disgust to corrupt our humanity. Let law enforcement and the courts do their job regarding Dzhokhar, and let Tamerlan rest in peace.

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775 Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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