1.6K Unclaimed Bodies Buried in Los Angeles

Yearly tradition draws two dozen

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 7, 2012 1:23 PM CST

(Newser) – In a December tradition dating back to 1896, Los Angeles County officials have buried the ashes of 1,656 bodies left unclaimed by family and friends. About two dozen people, including mourners, chaplains, and soup kitchen volunteers, turned up to witness the burial in a single grave, the Los Angeles Times reports. With no names or life stories to be read, it's an unusual service, says the chaplain who leads it. Readings from Islamic, Hindu, Jewish, and Christian texts were offered in Korean, Spanish, and English, and a woman performed a Native American chant.

The mass grave is traditionally marked with only the year. Unclaimed ashes often belong to homeless people or people with families who can't pay for burials or cremations, the Times notes. One mourner this year was in prison when her homeless mother died. "We tried to get her ashes, but we never got enough money," she said. "All of these folks represent the work that we do for the community: identify bodies, trying to reunite families," said the chief coroner investigator. "It's sad that a lot of it comes down to the almighty dollar."

Phoebe Parker, right, drops Calla Iilies during the service.   (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Rev. Chris Ponnet sprinkles rose petals during a memorial service at a mass burial site at the County Crematory and Cemetery in Boyle Heights district in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012.   (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
US Forest Service firefighter Richard Birni burns a ceremonial medicinal bag during the service.   (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
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