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Loved one's remains unidentified following flood

6 years 9 months 3 weeks ago Monday, September 25 2017 Sep 25, 2017 September 25, 2017 6:35 PM September 25, 2017 in News
Source: WBRZ

DENHAM SPRINGS - A family is having trouble finding peace after their mother's remains were unearthed during the August 2016 flood and have yet to be positively identified. The family has been told their identifying factors may be too vague, which leaves the process, for now, at a stand-still.

Theresa Mitchell and her family have a plot of land in Plainview Cemetery in Denham Springs. While most of her family members rest in peace, her mother's does not.

"Her casket came out the ground," said Mitchell. "And we want to see our mama's casket buried back in the ground."

The cemetery has been locked for months. A sign on the front gate says "Department of Homeland Security, No Trespassing, Keep Out." While hundreds of caskets were unearthed during last year's flood, Plainview Cemetery was one of the hardest hit.

On the cemetery grounds sits a large trailer and two tents. The LSU FACES lab primarily worked in those tents during the last few months working to identify remains and caskets that floated from their resting spots. Right now, those tents are empty.

The state Attorney General's office says of the 119 caskets that were separated from their tombstones, 15 have yet to be identified.

Ryan Seidemann, chief of the lands and natural resources section in the civil division of the state Attorney General's office and leading the statewide effort, says the remains that have yet to be identified have been removed from the unidentified caskets until there's proper identification. Caution tape surrounds those ten or so empty caskets. 

"It began with the LSU FACES lab," said Seidemann. "With their help, we were able to make the easy identifications."

For the 15 who have not been identified, Seidemann says scientists have to use "old school" methods and use family members to help identify clothing and items left in the casket. FEMA awarded money to those families with loved ones that became unearthed. While FEMA will help cover the cost of basic forensic analysis, it does not pay for DNA analysis. Seidemann tells 2 On Your Side based on research and experience, DNA testing on embalmed remains seldom works.

While the process may have been quick in the beginning, it's really slowed down. The majority of caskets have been reinterred, while a few have not been reinterred but have been identified.

"We want these remains identified and we want to help," said Seidemann.

Some of those unidentified remains have not had family come forward. It's been a tough year for Mitchell who buried her mother in 2009.

"It's like burying mama all over again," she said.

Mitchell remembers dressing her mother in a pink church gown. She wore a big necklace and two rings, one on each hand and provided a photo to WBRZ. Her mother, Betty Mitchell, was buried in a pink casket adorned with angels.     

The Attorney General's office says those identifying factors are too vague and the rings that were described were not a match. 

Monday afternoon, 2 On Your Side sent a photo of the rings Mitchell's mother was buried with to the Attorney General's office. WBRZ did not hear back about whether the rings were identifiable by the time this story was published.

Mitchell is hoping someone will take a closer look.

"I cry almost every night for my mama," she said.

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