County officials and community members came together Monday at a ceremony to memorialize the “forgotten” — 58 people whose ashes, or cremains, have been resting in a closet at the county morgue waiting for families to claim them.
Many of the ashes are of people who died homeless, or alone without apparent connections.
“They should be respectfully interred somewhere. They’re the ashes of human beings. They shouldn’t be sitting in a county office,” Coroner Dotti Owens told the Statesman last fall.
Staffers at Cloverdale Funeral Home learned of the county’s need and donated a mausoleum crypt at Terrace Lawn Memorial Garden to hold the cremains.
“It is a relief to have them somewhere, where they need to be,” said Val Brisbin, chief deputy coroner.
The funeral home hosted the brief ceremony at Terrace Lawn, which included a speech by Rev. Bill Roscoe from the Boise Rescue Mission, an honor guard and a recording of Judy Collins singing “Amazing Grace.”
Teresa Young, a death investigator in the coroner’s office, attended the ceremony with her husband and son. She came out of respect, she said.
“But for the grace of — whatever — we don’t end up with no one there for us when we go,” said Young.
County staffers typically spend hours researching the deceased and looking for family members. Since last fall, the county has returned once-unclaimed cremated remains to six families. It’s placed 10 more unclaimed veterans’ cremains at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.
But even with the successes, “it’s a cycle,” said Brisbin. The county continues to receive unclaimed cremains. Cloverdale will continue to entomb them.
“We work with the coroner’s office on a daily basis,” said Robert Boetticher Jr., managing partner at Cloverdale, who also spoke at the service on Monday. “It’s our way to give back to them. And to give someone some peace, lay someone to rest while they wait for their family.”
The responsibility of paying for cremation of indigent people who have died falls to the county. Law requires the coroner’s office to find a final location for cremains that remain abandoned or unclaimed.
The county had considered buying a crypt for storage. But with the donation from Cloverdale, safe keeping of cremains will be free, save a small fee for opening and reclosing the crypt if and when families want to claim ashes.
The 58 unclaimed cremains — including the oldest, held by the county since 1996 — were placed in the mausoleum around Memorial Day.
“We didn’t know these people and they didn’t know us, but we feel the between our team and the coroner’s office, we should take some time to recognize the lives that were lived,” said Boetticher.
Brisbin said he expects the memorial for the forgotten will become an annual event.
Katherine Jones contributed to this story.