'It's not even our mother:' IE family says mortuary gave them leftover ashes of other people

APPLE VALLEY, Calif. (KABC) -- An Apple Valley family is furious after the mortuary they say was supposed to handle their mother's cremation never completed the task, and instead gave them the leftover ashes from several other families.

They say the most disturbing part is that the alleged mistake happened nearly two months ago, and they were only recently informed.

"I mean, we're sitting here carrying around ashes that we thought were our mother and it's not even our mother," said Anthony Montes. "We're trying to get closure, and our mom is still in the freezer."

Montes said his mother, Anna Zuniga, passed away of unknown causes on Feb. 10. Her body had been discovered inside a tent in the desert in Apple Valley.

Zuniga's memorial service was held at Sunset Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary on March 17, and her cremation was supposed to take place two days later.

An employee of the mortuary gave them ashes on April 27, dividing the remains into multiple urns for Montes and his siblings.

"She divided it into our keepsakes and the larger urn that we had most of the remains in."

Montes said for nearly two months, his family believed the ashes were indeed of their mother. But he said the manager called him this week, explaining to him that there had been a mistake.

"He let me know that the remains we got were not my mother's. They were the dust remains of 50 to 100 different people."

Montes says the manager apologized and explained the mistake happened after his mother's cremation was placed on hold because of a problem with financing. He said the manager explained that even though the cremation was on hold, the labels were already printed and taken to the crematory, where they were mistakenly attached to the leftover remains of 50 to 100 people whose bodies were cremated during the past week.

"He said... the labels were still taken to the crematory and the person at the end of the day... grabbed a clipboard and he labeled the dust remains as my mother," Montes said.

He adds the manager told him the employee who was responsible for the mistake is no longer working at Sunset Hills. He said they've offered the family a plot at the cemetery where they will be able to bury their mother, as well as a plaque.

But his family members say that's not enough, given the pain they've been through with urns that contained the ashes of complete strangers.

"(The urn) was on my wall in my house, where we can sit there and reminisce about my mom," said daughter Precious Montes. "I took it down yesterday as I got the news, and I don't even know how to explain it to my kids, because they're like 'Where's Grandma?'"

The family says they've hired an attorney. Eyewitness News has made repeated attempts to contact Sunset Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary.

A manager initially said he could only discuss the situation if the family gave him permission. But after family members told us they did indeed give the manager permission to discuss what happened, the manager has not returned any of our phone calls.

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