Pierce County to scatter unclaimed ashes on Puget Sound

Due to an excess of cremated remains, the Pierce County Medical Examiner will scatter the unclaimed ashes of deceased individuals at sea on Thurs., Dec. 18.

“Many of these cases go back decades and by law we have to do everything we can to try and find the next of kin,” said Dr. Thomas Clark, who has served as Pierce County’s medical examiner since 2010. “However, many of the leads have been completely exhausted and either no friends or relatives can be found or are they not interested in claiming the remains. We’re left storing them indefinitely and that practice has become unsustainable.”

The Medical Examiner’s office has arranged to use the Pierce County Sheriff’s patrol boat to carry the cremated remains of 23 people to an undisclosed location on the waters of Puget Sound. By law, the ashes must be scattered within three miles of the state’s shoreline. Clark’s office has employed chaplains Larry and Dianne Huffman of West Pierce Fire & Rescue to say a few words, after which the names of each individual will be read aloud before the ashes are scattered.

“We deal with death every day in our office, and always in the most respectful and professional manner,” Clark said. “Regardless of the circumstances, it’s our duty to ensure that — as fellow human beings — they are treated with dignity.”

Among those whose ashes are being scattered are several whose remains were found in newly-purchased and rented homes, on the steps of a church, on a stranger’s porch, in the back of a pickup truck, on the side of the road, and in a store parking lot. The medical examiner’s office has listed the names or details of each individual whose ashes will be scattered online at piercecountywa.org/medicalexaminer.

Any individuals who are confirmed by the Medical Examiner’s office to be U.S. military veterans are entitled to interment in a veteran’s cemetery, and such arrangements are made.