I-Team Exclusive: Mass burial by Cook County

February 10, 2012 4:18:38 PM PST
Nearly 100 adults, children and fetuses from the Cook County morgue were buried Friday in a mass grave. This is the first mass burial by the medical examiner since management of that office was taken over by County President Toni Preckwinkle.

A blanket of snow covered the bed of mud at Homewood Gardens.

There was no hearse for the departed. It was a single rental truck carrying wooden coffins, crates containing the remains of 22 adults and more than 70 children, babies and fetuses.

The smaller, lighter boxes were hand-carried by student volunteers from Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Wheeling who donate their time at each indigent burial.

"Everybody who lives on this earth is here for a purpose and nobody should be laid to rest without a service. So my students come here to help with the interment" said Worsham professor Timothy Kowalski. "That's part of their obligation as funeral directors to give back to the community, to give back to Cook County."

The heavy wooden coffins containing adults put into the bucket of a front loader and driven a short distance to the mass graves.

The boxed remains were placed side by side as medical examiner staffers kept track of which coffin was being placed where in the large hole.

Supervising the burial was morgue executive officer Kim Jackson, second in command of the medical examiner's office.

As the I-Team reported two weeks ago, some morgue staffers blame Jackson for mismanagement resulting in an overflow of hundreds of bodies, haphazardly stored at the morgue.

At Friday's mass burial, Jackson declined to speak with the I-Team.

By late afternoon, the mass grave had been filled and the student volunteers held a final prayer for the indigent deceased, their role to bring some dignity to an otherwise undignified delivery.

"We're here to respect the dead. We're not here to debate politics or anything else. We're simply here to respect the dead" Professor Kowalski said.

The organization that oversees Catholic cemeteries in Chicago and the suburbs this week offered to donate 300 individual graves so that Cook County wouldn't have to bury people the way they did Friday.

The medical examiner supervisor, Kim Jackson, who declined to be interviewed, referred the I-Team to County President Preckwinkle, whose spokeswoman has not responded to questions about why they did a mass burial when they have an offer of separate gravesites.

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