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caption: The Indigent Remains Burial ceremony at Mt. Olivet Ceremony in Renton on July 10, 2019.
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The Indigent Remains Burial ceremony at Mt. Olivet Ceremony in Renton on July 10, 2019.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Ann Dornfeld

A funeral for 302 people: King County lays to rest indigent remains

In a corner of a leafy cemetery on a hill, clergy from many religions and denominations read off the names of people whose families could not afford a funeral or whose families could not be found.

The King County Medical Examiner's Office held this funeral for hundreds of indigent people who've died in the last few years at a cemetery in Renton Wednesday.

James Sosik, who leads the Indigent Remains Burial Program for the King County Medical Examiner's Office, said he's proud of the effort the county goes to to give the poor and homeless a dignified burial.

"These were all babies at one point. They all have mommies and daddies. Just because they're deceased doesn't mean they should be forgotten, just put in the ground and never recognized again," Sosik said.

The number of people whose remains are unclaimed is rising in King County, Sosik said; something he attributes largely to population growth.

Only a few dozen people attended the ceremony.

"I would really like to see more people here to recognize that this does occur. That it's not something to push off and be forgotten about," Sosik said.

Pat Ellis, a chaplain with Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority, said it’s important to read aloud the names of the deceased.

“It brings comfort. It brings peace. To know that no matter who you are, no matter where you’re at, somebody is going to remember who you are," Ellis said.

The cremated remains are buried in individual urns beneath a plaque reading "GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: THESE PEOPLE OF KING COUNTY." Names are not listed on the plaque, but they are memorialized on the county website.

Most of those in attendance were members of the public who came to bear witness, including many from faith-based organizations or advocates for the homeless.

But several came to say goodbye to their loved ones, like Michael Ready, who recently lost his partner of seven years, David Lyons. Ready stood dabbing away tears after a bagpiper concluded the ceremony by playing "Amazing Grace."

“I’m quite shocked how everything went – it was quite nice," Ready said.