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A final, permanent resting place for Prince William’s unclaimed dead

There’s little information about their lives, but in death, five Prince William County residents were treated to a heroes’ funeral with an honor guard salute, two women singing hymns, two chaplains sharing prayers and even the Prince William County Sheriff taking time to speak.

It’s part of the county’s annual memorial service for the unclaimed. Thursday morning at Woodbine Cemetery in Manassas, a small group gathered.

A Memorial Service for Prince William County’s Unclaimed Citizens is a project that started last year. The program provides a final, permanent resting place for Prince William’s unclaimed dead. But, organizers say that term may be misleading. These are Prince William County residents who may not have been able to afford a funeral, outlived family members or were possibly homeless. Even though there are a number of possible, different scenarios, the county wanted to help provide, what Sheriff Glendell Hill calls, “a noble burial.”

This year, five people were laid to rest at Woodbine Cemetery: Willie Mae Miller, Edwin LyneConnor, Edwin Fay Gray, Robert E. Gross and Earl Miller. Sheriff Hill says during the course of investigating Earl Miller’s death, they found the ashes of his mother, Willie Mae Miller. Thursday’s service ensured the two were buried together.

Less than two dozen people gathered for the service. Among those, Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center’s chaplain and decedent affair coordinator, Cindy Hardy. “I wanted to go and honor the lives that we may have worked with when they were alive,” she shares. In her role as chaplain, she often helps people through tough times. Thursday was no different when she was seated next to a friend of one of the deceased, “He was able to have a proper goodbye. He said he felt connected and glad that he was able to have these final moments with him and say a proper goodbye.”

Reverend Gene Wells serves as a chaplain for the Prince William County Sheriff’s Office; he’s also a pastor at Woodbine Church. It’s those two callings that helped find a final resting place for those who may not had it. The five people honored on Thursday and the 41 last year, “People shouldn’t be thrown away,” Reverend Wells told the assembled group, “This is a place for them to be remembered.”

Chief Deputy Terry Fearnley of the Prince William County Sheriff’s Office, is also a member of Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center’s Patient Family Advisory Council, he says this is a program everyone is proud to be a part of, “This gives them the dignity they deserve in their last days.”

The department has pledged to continue this program as long as it’s needed. Hardy says she’ll continue to be there and witness these lives that have passed through the community, “Every life is of dignity and worth, no matter your income, your family background, everyone deserves a proper last resting place.”

For more information about the Prince William County UnclaimedCitizens, please visit pwcup.org.

 

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