BY MATTHEW HALL
Daily Press Editor
The County of Los Angeles will bury more than 1,400 individuals in a mass grave today as part of a somber annual tradition to provide dignity and humanity to individuals who have died without anyone to handle their affairs.
A burial ceremony is held once a year for individuals who die within County borders and are not claimed by family or whose families do not have the ability to pay for their funerals. The individuals might have been homeless at the time of their death or officials were unable to locate anyone who could handle their services.
When local authorities determine a death was the result of natural causes, they conduct an investigation to determine the victim’s family. If no family are found or investigators are unable to identify the body, the case is handed to the County Coroner’s office.
The unclaimed body is cremated and the Coroner’s office works with the Los Angeles County Office of Decedent Affairs/Morgue to hold the remains for three years before scheduling any unclaimed ashes for burial.
If no family steps forward before the three year wait period expires, all the unclaimed ashes are placed in a single mass grave with a marker listing the year of cremation. A non-denominational, interfaith burial ceremony is held annually in November/December at the L.A. County Crematory/Cemetery in Boyle Heights at the corner of 1st and Lorena Streets
The ceremony includes representatives from Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths and conducts prayers in several languages.
The Office of Decedent Affairs is the county agency responsible for handling burial of unclaimed individuals who die within the county. When families are located, the office works with them to retrieve their loved one’s ashes prior to the burial and the cost of cremation can be waived for families with financial difficulties.
The county has conducted burials for unclaimed individuals since 1896 and this year, the ashes of 1,430 individuals will be buried. The number of individuals buried in the mass grave has remained relatively stable. In the last 10 years, the lowest number of individuals was 1,379 in 2015 compared to the high of 1,798 in 2009.
Supervisor Don Knabe requested a moment of silence in honor of these individuals at the Nov. 29 Board of Supervisors meeting.
“This holiday season many of us are reminded of how fortunate we are to be surrounded by our loved ones. Sadly, not everyone shares this blessing,” he said in a statement. “On Wednesday, the County will bury the remains of 1,430 individuals in a mass grave. These are individuals who, for one reason or another, have no one but the County to provide them with a respectful and dignified burial. Some are homeless. Many are poor. Some have no families to grieve for them. Regardless of what their status in life was, each one of them mattered. We take the opportunity tomorrow to honor their lives.”
The Los Angeles Times maintains an online database (http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-unclaimed-dead-2016) of individuals buried in the mass graves and lists the name, sex, age, birth date and date of death. Anyone searching for a the name of someone who might have been part of the process can also contact the L.A. County Office of Decedent Affairs/Morgue (Estela Inouye, (323) 409-7161, email@example.com]) or the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office (323-343-0512).