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Service held for 200 whose bodies went unclaimed

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POSTED July 9, 2014 9:01 p.m.

BROWNSTOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A casket carrying the body of Richard Clement was slowly lowered into its final resting place on Wednesday.

It was a long time coming.

Clement died three years ago, but his body went unclaimed — one of 200 that filled a room at a Detroit morgue. With Wayne County unable to afford to bury them, The Jewish Fund, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit and area funeral homes joined forces to ensure the bodies would get into individual graves.

Clement’s burial at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown Township was preceded by a 40-minute interfaith memorial service designed to honor and respect those who were alone in death’s aftermath. More burials will come in the coming month.

“This is the most important day that we have. It is a day of remembrance. It is a celebration of lives well-lived. And it is a day of closure,” said the Rev. Louis Prues, a Presbyterian minister who spoke at the service, which included remarks from priests, a rabbi and funeral directors.

Most of the 200 will be interred at Our Lady of Hope, while the others will be buried at an area veterans’ cemetery.

The effort is time-consuming and costly, but the groups say it’s worth it.

The board of The Jewish Fund, which supports community programs and services to help at-risk people improve their health, approved a grant of up to $60,000 in May to purchase caskets. The Detroit archdiocese said its contribution, which includes burial services and maintenance facilitated by its Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services ministry, will exceed $400,000.

“Everybody just wanted to provide some faith and provide some healing and provide some dignity to a process that to this point has been very undignified. And I think we accomplished that goal,” said David Techner, whose Southfield funeral home, The Ira Kaufman Chapel, is handling the death certificates and burial records.

Shimeca Jackson, whose uncle Roland Dukes was among the unclaimed, said she was thankful for the service, which “had to cost a small fortune.”

Jackson, 44, brought along a photo of Dukes, a Detroit resident who died nearly two years ago at the age of 63. She said she just recently he found out he was dead because his name was on a list provided by the medical examiner’s office.

“Everyone’s already so hurt and feels so much guilt, because he was alone,” Jackson said.

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