Los Angeles County’s annual service for the unclaimed dead will take place at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Los Angeles County Crematory and Cemetery on 3301 E. 1st St. in Boyle Heights.
The ceremony will remember 1,457 individuals cremated in 2016 whose remains have stayed in the county’s possession for the past three years, according to Estela Inouye, manager of decedent affairs at the county morgue, crematory, and cemetery. There are many reasons why the remains go unclaimed: the deceased had no next of kin, they lost touch with their families, their families cannot pay to reimburse the cremation fee.
An interfaith service held by the county provides “a solemn service to recognize that these were human beings, had their own stories, their own families,” said Father Chris Ponnet, director of spiritual care at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, who has been organizing the service for about 15 years.
Faith leaders from different religious backgrounds, including Ponnet, will preside over the ceremony in a variety of languages. In past years, people have paid their respects through readings of poetry and religious texts, including Psalm 23 in Hebrew and in English. One woman sang a Native American song facing each cardinal point.
“We try to represent as diverse a group that could be represented in this group that has died,” Ponnet said. “It’s a reminder of the dignity of each person.”
Information on finding a decedent is available online.