Gone but not forgotten – 2017

At 1 p.m. on Wednesday, October 18, the King County Medical Examiner’s Office will lay to rest the remains of individuals who did not have the means or the family to provide a proper burial. The ceremony will take place at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Renton.

King County is required to process and bury these remains, but our medical examiner and his team make sure each individual is given the respect and recognition they deserve, regardless of their circumstances.

We talked to James Sosik, medicolegal investigator and indigent remains ceremony coordinator, about the history of this program and why it’s so important.

How long has King County provided this service and how does it work?
The first ceremony took place in 1993, and I’ve been involved with the work for the past five years. We hold a ceremony on an as-needed basis. When no one with the necessary resources for burial is available, the remains are looked after through our indigent remains program.

We exhaust all efforts to identify family members who may be able to take the remains, but when no one can be found who can do this, we cremate them and bury them. In some cases, we are able to find family, but the family can’t always bear the cost of burial services.

Can you describe the ceremony? Can anyone attend?
All are welcome. We do our best to provide the most respectful service possible. We invite clergy from several denominations to read the names of each individual decedent, and we work with local organizations and agencies to reach out to people in the community who may have known them. Each burial is marked with a stone plate (which includes the date and an inscription).

How are the remains buried?
All remains are cremated and buried in the same area of the cemetery. Even though the burial includes the remains of (in this instance) 180 people, each individual’s remains are separated and identifiable by a unique number inside the tomb. We use a 3-D map for reference in case family members are found, so we can retrieve the remains for them.

What do we know about the 180 people being buried next week?
All of the names of the decedents can be found online and in the invitation shown below, and I encourage people to review and share the list. We believe that 18 of them were likely experiencing homelessness, and they all died between 2007 and 2016. Things may have been hard at the time of their death, but we believe someone cared about each one of them. It’s an honor to be able to say goodbye to them and, in some cases, give friends and family the chance to do the same.

What if family members identify a loved one scheduled to be buried next week?
Please contact us right away. If you are a family member of one of the individuals listed, and wish to bury their remains separately, please contact the King County Medical Examiner’s Office at 206-744-3232 extension 1.

Invitation can be downloaded here.

Correction October 18, 2017: We originally believed 17 of the decedents were experiencing homelessness, but after further review, we believe the more accurate count is 18. 

Originally posted on October 12, 2017.