Music Exec Helps Raise Money to Bury Detroit's Dead

"I think there was a shock that this situation even existed, and that's why I think you saw the outpouring -- the feedback from across the county," said Dennis Niemiec, a spokesman for Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano.

The county said $30,000 had been raised from people concerned about the problem. That money, along with money from the county's budget for the 2010 fiscal year, is enough to remove the unclaimed bodies that remain.

"We've found an honorable way to give these people a proper burial," said Albert Samuels, chief investigator of the morgue.

Samuels expects the morgue will release enough bodies over the next couple of days that it can stop storing corpses in the freezer truck outside the morgue that still holds 29 bodies.

"Hopefully, the trailer will become a thing of the past in a few weeks," he said.

To further reduce the cost of burials, the county has worked out a deal with a local cemetery to cremate the bodies at a reduced cost, is pursuing additional funds from the state and hopes to give Wayne State University some bodies as anatomical gifts, Samuels said.

Finding space for the approximately 10 to 12 bodies that come through the facility every day has been a problem for many years. Although some the dead bodies are decomposed so badly that dental and fingerprint identification is useless, Samuels keeps a record of information on the bodies just in case the families can later identify a tattoo or some other body markings.

'Humans Bury Their Dead'

But even among the bodies that can be identified, many of the families will not -- or perhaps cannot, because of financial hardship -- claim them.

That is something Samuels can't fathom.

"Coming from a large family, I cannot in my mind figure out your not picking up a sibling or somebody," he said. "One of the things that separates humans from animals is humans bury their dead. I can't see leaving a loved one in this condition. Give them their final resting place."

Samuels also thinks the local and national news coverage of the situation at the morgue has a big help.

"It was positive," he said. "A lot of people didn't know these types of things were happening. Unfortunately, Detroit is not unique in this. We're finding out this is happening all over the country."

Das wants to continue raising funds for Detroit until every unclaimed body is out of the morgue and buried or cremated. But she knows her work can't stop there because of the reports that the problem extends beyond Detroit.

Das soon plans to raise money for families in other cities struggling to pay for the burial of their dead.

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