'No One Deserves to Go Unclaimed': Volunteers Give Dignified Burials to Strangers' Unclaimed Remains | NBC4 Washington

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'No One Deserves to Go Unclaimed': Volunteers Give Dignified Burials to Strangers' Unclaimed Remains

The Missing in America Project estimates there are more than 100,000 unclaimed bodies across the U.S.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Northern Virginia bureau reporter David Culver attends a service for two women who died without family able to care for their remains.

    (Published Wednesday, April 12, 2017)

    The remains of two women went unclaimed, but loving strangers gave them dignified burials Wednesday at Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia.

    Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Catherine Lee Beck and Carol Corice Horn, the spouse of a deceased U.S. Navy service member, did not know each other in life. But they shared a lonely title in death: both of their bodies were deemed to be "unclaimed remains."

    “These are individuals who have passed away, and unfortunately family members are not able to take care of them or are unwilling to take care of the funeral arrangements," Capt. Heath Stearns of the Prince William County Sheriff's Office explained.

    The sheriff's office and volunteers with the Missing in America Project stepped up to give both women a proper burial, with full military honors.

    Veterans on motorcycles, sheriff's deputies and City of Manassas police officers escorted Beck's and Horn's remains to the cemetery.

    A bugler played taps, and Marine spouse Sherry Yetter sang the national anthem. She has volunteered for hundreds of hours, helping lay people's unclaimed remains to rest.

    “No one deserves to go unclaimed, and so it is my honor to help bring them home today," she said.

    An entire section of Quantico National Cemetery, Section 22, is devoted to unclaimed bodies.

    The Missing in America Project estimates there are more than 100,000 unclaimed bodies across the U.S. They believe about 30 percent of those belong to former service members.

    A coordinator with the project, Forrest Lingenfelter, said the volunteers serve as fill-in family members.

    “There's just no one to claim them, and if you can step in and be that family, that's special," he said.

    Yetter said she continues to pay her respects after the burials.

    "We adopt each one of these individuals that have been laid to rest. They become part of our family. So, on the holidays guess who I come to visit? I come visit these individuals who I’ve helped laid to rest," she said.

    In 2016, the Prince William County Sheriff's Office handled about 40 funerals for people whose remains had not been claimed.

    As always, they invite the public to join in paying their respects.