Miami-Dade County

Man who caused 49 funerals gets his own in South Florida

The rampage in Orlando left 50 bodies on the floor of Pulse nightclub.

For 49 of them, funerals were marked with flowers, song and a swell of community support.

This is not the case for body number 50 — the shooter, Omar Mateen.

The 29-year-old shot more than 100 people in his massacre last week before he was felled by police bullets. In death, he already stands apart. During the autopsies his body was stored in a different building than his victims.

Read Next

On Wednesday, Mateen’s body was released. His death certificate lists his final resting place as the only fully Muslim cemetery in South Florida. Others, including private cemeteries in Opa-locka and Sunrise, have sections where Muslims are buried, but the Muslim Cemetery of South Florida is dedicated entirely to Muslim burials.

The Hialeah Gardens graveyard is on a desolate stretch of Northwest Miami-Dade just off of Okeechobee Road, on a street where people dump unwanted furniture and other clutter. The cemetery and funeral home is guarded by a fence topped with barbed wire, and has video surveillance, according to a sign posted on the property. Access is controlled by an electrically operated fence that, on Thursday, was closed. A sign says “Peace be Upon You, Oh Inhabitants of these Graves, Believers and Muslims.”

What sets Muslim burials apart is mostly the preparation of the body, said Bilal Karakira, a board member for the cemetery. Cremation is forbidden in the Quran, because “we have respect for the dead and alive,” he said.

“Would you burn someone if they were alive?” Karakira asked.

The simple ceremony begins with ablution, or washing, of the hands, feet and face of the body. The soap and water cleansing is gentle, he said.

“When we wash the body we make sure the water is not too cold, not too hot,” Karakira said. “It’s very comfortable.”

After drying it off, the body is wrapped in three white sheets — “no stitches, no colors, no stripes, no tags” — and placed in the grave facing Mecca while the burial party prays. Dirt must touch the body.

Then come three official days of mourning. Tradition calls for white, because death is the entrance to heaven and mourners should celebrate their loved one’s ascent, but Karakira said the cultural prevalence of black in mourning is growing. During those days, friends care and cook for the grieving family members.

Karakira did not comment on whether Omar Mateen had yet been buried at his cemetery, or why the graveyard was chosen.

No one asked them, but Jamal Hassounih of the Muslim Cemetery of Central Florida said his graveyard would not have taken Mateen’s body.

“People like that have no place, alive or dead, in our society,” he said.

The tradition of denying burial, or a funeral, to the infamous is rich, even in South Florida.

Rudy Eugene captured the world’s attention when he was shot dead by police as he crouched, naked, growling and biting chunks of flesh from the face of a homeless man. Headlines declared him the “Miami Zombie” and “The Miami Face Eater.” His mother found herself turned away from four Haitian churches in search of a funeral for her son. He is buried in a corner of a Miami-Dade cemetery.

It took a week to find a cemetery that would host the bodies of the San Bernardino shooters, who slaughtered 14 people at a holiday party. An attendee of the funeral told Reuters the closer spots were worried about vandalism.

The elder Boston Bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had a similar journey. The Cambridge city manager denied a permit for burial within his city. Tsarnaev lies in an unmarked grave in a Virginia Muslim cemetery.

Laws were changed for Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, whose time in the Gulf War would have landed him a spot at Arlington National Cemetery without Congress’ quick preventive action. His ashes were scattered at an undisclosed location.