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Richland Co. Coroner’s Office holds second public burial of 2021

Published: Jul. 11, 2021 at 6:33 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Richland County Coroner’s Office held a public burial and remembrance ceremony Sunday afternoon for Richland County residents who have died and do not have any identified next-of-kin or if their family cannot afford to hold a traditional ceremony.

Sunday, a minister offered words of comfort to attendees, then each representative of a decedent received a white rose symbolizing remembrance. The roses were placed by each grave by attendees.

“We take them on as our family in our hearts so that we can remember them and show them that they are not alone and that they will always be remembered here, at least at the Richland County Coroner’s Office,” said Richland County Coroner Naida Rutherford.

The Coroner’s Office holds public ceremonies twice to three times per year, on average, and Sunday’s event honored 10 Richland County residents. The first ceremony of 2021 occurred in April, honoring 23 residents.

The unclaimed deceased are cremated, and the remains are buried in the Richland County Cemetery beneath a name plate. The grave markers are registered in a database that can be searched to find individuals buried in the county cemetery.

The C.O.N.N.E.C.T. Team at the Coroner’s Office, short for “Connecting Our Neighbors to networks and Embracing them with Compassion supported by Teamwork,” consists of employees, interns, and volunteers that work diligently to notify next-of-kin following a death.

Forensic Anthropologist and Deputy Coroner William Stevens says searching for relatives of the deceased entails of many different forms of research.

“Online searching, knocking on doors, putting obituary notices, jail records on anything you could think of,” says Williams. “We’re constantly trying to locate family notify them in a timely manner.”

If the family is estranged or cannot be found, Williams and his team then search for friends, family, social workers, or anyone involved with the deceased, and the team invites them to the remembrance ceremony.

John Clements came to honor his friend, a native of Austria who grew up an orphan.

“He ended up with friends here in Columbia. I’m not really sure how that happened, but he did. He was just a great guy. Always positive, a real good guy,” said Clements.

Clements says it gives him peace to know his friend, Siegfried, resides in a green space with some trees. He says he’ll return when he’s in the area.

Rutherford says she wants to remind Richland County residents that the Coroner’s Office is here in all times of life.

“I don’t want you to be sad today,” said Rutherford. “I want you to take the time to acknowledge the positive things that your family, that your friend, that your friend that became family meant to you. I want you to acknowledge the beauty of their life. And I want you to take that and live your life to the fullest.”

Rutherford says the ceremonies would not be possible without help from volunteers. If you would like to volunteer to help with a remembrance ceremony, call the Richland County Coroner’s Office.

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