LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Southern California coastal cleanup crew ended nine months of anguish for a grieving family with the discovery of cremated remains that had been in a van that was stolen before a funeral service.
The crew from the Los Cerritos Wetlands Stewards was rappelling down bluffs to pick up trash tossed over a sidewalk railing when they decided to look more closely at a weathered cardboard box.
"We could see a plastic bag inside, and ashes, and we knew they were remains," John McGaffin told KNBC-TV Thursday.
The box had the label of a Houston mortuary and a name, Anthony Sanchez. The crew found another container of ashes with the same label and another name, Damadis Sanchez.
Damadis Sanchez was 34 when she was killed along with her 8-year-old son, Anthony, in a traffic accident in Texas last year.
Her brother, Gerson Lopes, had the cremated remains returned to the family in El Monte, near Los Angeles. Last April, the family prepared for a memorial service, placing the two urns in a van they would be driving.
The van was stolen and the family had to hold the funerals without the remains of the deceased.
"I was pretty depressed," Lopes said.
Nine months later, the van is still nowhere to be found. But the cleanup crew handed the remains over to Lopes, who told KNBC he was relieved.
"Just like a weight off my shoulders," Lopes said, praising the crew for taking the initiative to look more closely and follow up.
"That team, they're solid people," he said. "We had a moment, and hugged it out."
Nine months ago, Lopes and his family had made arrangements with a boat operator to take them out to sea so they could scatter the ashes. The same afternoon he received the remains, Lopes made the arrangements again, and gave his sister and nephew the ceremony he had planned.