Unclaimed Cantrell remains laid to rest
One by one, their names were read aloud, along with those whose identities were unknown: Roosevelt Adkins, Jr. ... Sally C. Agee ... Unidentified Loved One.
About 300 unclaimed remains that were removed from Cantrell Funeral Home after the facility was closed in April were honored Friday during a service at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Detroit, as part of an All Souls' Day commemoration.
On a chilly, drizzly morning, about 30 mourners huddled in the cemetery's Garden Chapel, where five caskets contained cremated remains, one draped in an American flag because it held the remains of 50 U.S. military veterans.
Lucille Donaldson was among the mourners. The remains of her mother, Gladys Donaldson, along with the other civilian remains, will be kept in a crypt at the cemetery. The veterans' remains will be interred in Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly.
"We thought Cantrell (funeral home) buried her," Donaldson said. "Then my niece called and told me my mother's name was on the list (of remains that were found in Cantrell). So we don't know exactly what's going on."
Cantrell Funeral Home was closed in April, after state inspectors revoked the mortuary licenses of the facility and its director. Inspectors in April found deplorable conditions that included moldy bodies in an unrefrigerated garage.
Inspectors from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs last month conducted another visit to Cantrell and found the remains of 10 fetuses and an infant hidden in a ceiling compartment.
Since April, hundreds of cremated and intact remains have been removed from the facility on Mack, while volunteers from Verheyden Funeral Home in Grosse Pointe Park try to identify them.
Cantrell is the focus of state and Detroit police investigations for allegedly mishandling remains. Perry Funeral Home in Detroit is also being investigated for various alleged offenses.
Verheyden owner Brian Joseph said neither he nor Mt. Olivet Cemetery officials are getting paid for identifying and interring the remains.
"It's just the right thing to do," Joseph said. He added that none of the remains honored Friday were among the infants and fetuses found in Cantrell.
During Friday's 45-minute ceremony, ministers, chaplains, a priest and an imam said prayers, gave short remarks, and took turns reading the names of the remains, 52 of which were unidentified.
"The events that got us to this day, while sad and maddening, and difficult to understand, are not as important as what we do today," said the Rev. Louis Prues, associate pastor at Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church in Detroit.
"These men, these women, these soldiers are important to us," Prues said. "We may not have known them, but we didn't forget them. Not to be remembered and honored (after death) is a blemish on human dignity."
Southfield Police chaplain Pastor Haziel Wings said as she was driving through the spacious cemetery on her way to Friday's ceremony, she saw a woman walking in the drizzle.
"I asked if she needed a ride, and if she had someone being honored," Wings said. The woman replied her only sister was among the remains being commemorated, Wings said.
"She said, 'I'm hurting; my only sister and I were born one year apart on Nov. 30.' That made it so personal, when she said, 'I'm hurting,'" Wings said.
Tonya Allen of Detroit said she came to the service to honor her daughter's aunt, Cynthia Jones. She said she found out her remains hadn't been cremated through a list released by Verheyden Funeral Home to the media.
"We were under the impression that she was cremated, and her husband was supposed to pick up the remains — but he was nowhere to be found," Allen said. "She had a service at Cantrell; her remains were just never picked up after that. So I'm here to pay my respects."
Lizzie Davis, whose brother Eddie Bannerman died in 2006, had a similar story.
"He was sick for a long time, and all of a sudden he was gone," Davis said. "One of my brothers told me he was going to go to Cantrell and pick up (his remains) and ... spread his ashes in a special place. I assumed he did that.
"I was shocked," Davis said of being informed by Verheyden staff that her brother's remains were among those found at Cantrell. "We're living in a time where we can expect just about anything. But now that he's at rest, I can rest."