Los Angeles County buried the ashes of 1,639 unidentified or unclaimed people in a mass grave at the LA County Cemetery in Boyle Heights Wednesday, KPCC reports.
Rev. Chris Ponnet, director of spiritual care at County-USC Medical Center, who conducted the ceremony, explained that those being buried were the homeless, the estranged or simply those whose families could not afford a burial. An annual custom in Los Angeles since 1896, the funeral was an interfaith ceremony, incorporating Islamic, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian prayers.
Albert Gaskin, the county's crematory caretaker, who's been to more than 30 such ceremonies, told KTLA, "It's hard, especially when you have to cremate babies. Off the top of my head, there are about 300 babies this year from hospitals around the county, with families who can't afford to bury them."
Supervisor Don Knabe commented to CBS, when he and his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors observed a moment of silence for those buried, "Regardless of what their status in life was, each one of their lives matters. It matters to us, their county family."
According to KTLA, about 20 people attended the funeral. As is done each year, the ashes were put to rest in a grave with a 4-by-4 plaque, this year inscribed "2011."
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