Interfaith ceremony: Mass burial in Boyle Heights honors 1,457 unclaimed bodies

BOYLE HEIGHTS, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A unique burial ceremony was held for 1,457 people who died in Los Angeles County in 2016, and at some point walked among us, but their bodies were never claimed.

"As coworkers, veterans, immigrants, homeless people, they are infants and they are elders," described Chris Ponnet, priest and organizer of the event, about who the bodies belonged to.

This year about 200 people, including local faith leaders showed up for this interfaith non-denomination ceremony at the L.A. County Crematorium Cemetery on Tuesday. It has been going on in the county since 1896.

"No one was either there to claim their remains or...couldn't afford it, or whatever happened," said Ponnet. "In most cases, something most likely was broken in the family."

The event, organized by the L.A. County Office of Decedent Affairs, included songs, prayers and rituals from the Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Native American traditions, and in different languages.

"This is an opportunity for us as a community to say, these people had names, had stories, they had families, how they were among us and honor them even after their death," said Ponnet.

Ponnet says when he started to help organize the event 15 years ago, there were about 2,000 unclaimed bodies and out of those they were only able to identify about a dozen.

This year, out all the bodies, only about 12 were unidentified.

"My understanding is genealogy workers have been helping," said Ponnet. "D.N.A. has been helpful."

All of the bodies were cremated and buried in a single-mass grave three days ago.
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