- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) - Brittany Keane keeps the dead - and their money, their jewelry, even their television sets.

Everything that belonged to 77 people who have died in York County since the 1980s, whose families never claimed the person’s possessions - or the person.

Men and women as old as 85. Younger people whose lives ended abruptly in violence or despair. A baby who lived just three months.

Homeless men who lived desperate lives of survival, until life ended on cold railroad tracks. Victims of crimes, including a woman who was killed by her own son in 2013.

The people span ethnicity and race, but they share the same thing - nobody claimed their remains, their stuff or both after they came into possession of the York County Coroner’s Office.

“We have many sets of cremains here - the bodies of people who were never picked up,” said Keane, the deputy coroner in charge of the evidence storage. “Every case here was at one time a life.”

Over years, decades in many cases, the ashes of cremated people or the items at the scene of death or in a home at the time of death were never picked up by family. Some were indigent - poor and alone - but others had families who just decided that they wanted nothing from the death.

Those who work in the coroner’s office hope memories have just faded and that many, if not all, eventually will be claimed.

Keane showed earrings, wallets and a jewelry box. She pointed to stacks of plastic boxes - dozens - filled with ashes. The office doesn’t have the room to store human remains for decades, so unclaimed bodies are cremated.

Inside each box are the remains of somebody who laughed and loved, learned and wept, and, eventually, died.

“All of these items together are part of who that person was,” Keane said. “They mattered. They still matter to us.”

Within the envelopes and boxes are several cases with photos of people in life, driver’s licenses, identifications that show where the person worked or who he or she was in life. For some, the only possessions are an old TV set, a wooden jewelry box or some fake diamond earrings worn as her heart shuddered to an end.

Coroner Sabrina Gast, first elected in 2006, has made several improvements to the office aimed at making service to bereaved families more efficient and helpful.

Keane and others are meticulous in dealing with the cremains and possessions of the dead. Anyone who comes in to claim someone’s effects must show proof that they are the legal next-of-kin.

Coroners, who are often charged with notifying families of the death of a loved one, know that emotions can run high - even years later.

“Our goal is simple,” Keane said. “Find the families and reunite those families with their loved ones.”

___

Information from: The Herald, http://www.heraldonline.com

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