MERCED — Merced police have an open investigation into the theft of nine urns stolen from Evergreen Funeral Home and Memorial Park.
Evergreen officials said the urns contained the ashes of families' loved ones — and that the human remains are now missing along with the urns.
Lt. Tom Trindad said detectives believe the theft happened sometime between 6 p.m. May 7 and 8 a.m. May 8, and no suspects are in custody.
The urns, which are generally made of brass or bronze, were kept in glass cases in the outdoor mausoleum. Trindad said someone took out the glass and removed the urns from the cases.
Trindad called the crime a terrible violation against those who have loved ones' remains kept at the cemetery. "That's what makes it so heinous — their loved ones' (remains) are missing," Trindad said.
The motive for the thefts is unknown. Detective Paul Johnson has been assigned to handle the case.
Rebecca Cruz, a funeral arranger and advanced planning consultant who works at Evergreen, said all of the families who've had loved ones' remains stolen from the cemetery have been notified.
While thieves have stolen metal vases, sprinkler heads, and other items from Evergreen before, Cruz said that it's the first time in recent memory that anyone's stolen human remains.
Ron Pirtle had kept the ashes of his father, Wayne Pirtle, stored at Evergreen since 1984 — until the thieves stole them last month. "I was shocked and hurt." Ron Pirtle said.
Ron Pirtle said he's followed up with the Crime Stoppers about the theft, and Cruz said she's called local recyclers to find out if someone's tried to sell the urns. Thus far, there's been no luck.
Whoever committed the theft also took the bronze stripping and brackets on the cases, Pirtle said.
Cruz said the families and cemetery officials are hoping someone comes forward with information. The most important thing, said Cruz, is that the families are reunited with their loved ones' remains. "All of the other things are replaceable, but not the remains," she said.
Merced police are asking anyone with information about the thefts to call Detective Paul Johnson at (209) 388-7742. Callers can also leave tips on the department's automated tipline at (209) 385-4725. People can send information via anonymous text messages to the police department by dialing "TIP411" (847411) and including the word "Comvip" as the keyword in the text message.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.