(USA Today) Nine unclaimed containers found inside a funeral home contain the ashes of victims of the 1978 mass cult Jonestown (Guyana) Massacre, according to police.
The discovery was among 38 small containers of unclaimed ashes found inside the former Minus Funeral home by the property’s owner, said Kimberly Chandler, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security. She said Thursday she didn’t know who the property owner is and when they made the discovery.
State forensic investigators responded last week to a request to check the building after the containers were discovered. Dover police provided assistance.
“It was definitely a shock when we found out exactly what we had,” said Dover police spokesman Mark Hoffman. “Obviously it’s an intriguing story and a tragic story, and to think this was found right here in our jurisdiction, about six blocks from the police department, makes it very compelling to us.”
The containers of ashes, 33 of which were marked and identified, were dated from a period spanning from approximately 1970 through the 1990s.
Documentation found in the bank-owned funeral home, including death certificates, helped forensic investigators tie the nine remains to the Jonestown Massacre, said Chandler.
State forensic investigators have taken possession of the remains and are continuing to identify them and make notifications to family members.
“We don’t know why they were unclaimed,” she said. “What we intend to do is identify family members, reach out to them and make them aware that the remains are available to them.”
More than 900 members of the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project cult led by American preacher Jim Jones died in a night of mass murder and suicide on Nov. 18, 1978 in the north west of Guyana.
Jones ordered his followers, mostly Americans, to commit suicide. Jones’ followers drank cyanide-laced, grape-flavored punch while others were shot by guards loyal to the cult leader. The incident marked one of the most horrific mass killings in American history.
It’s not yet known how the remains ended up at the former Minus Funeral Home.
All 913 victims of the mass killing, mostly followers as well as leaders of the Peoples Temple religious cult, were flown from Guyana to the Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, where they were identified and prepared for burial, according to articles published at the time in The News Journal.
At least 29 of the victims were cremated in New Jersey.
Delaware, at least initially, barred the cremation or burial of the Jonestown dead in the state.
The discovery of the ashes inside the building prompted authorities to dig outside on Wednesday to check for any other unclaimed remains. None was found. Authorities found an arrowhead, two animal bones, oyster shells and charcoal, according to the release.
Several bronze gravesite markers for deceased veterans serving in World War I, through the Vietnam War, were also located inside the facility during the initial check by state forensic investigators.
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