Several bodies found stacked up at the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office received a proper burial Wednesday overseen by Francis Cardinal George.
Thirteen adults and 120 children and fetuses were buried at Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery on Chicago's South Side, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said.
All the dead were placed into 18 plots donated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. Five caskets each held 24 unborn fetuses.
"We bury the dead because it is a corporal work of mercy," the cardinal said.
It was revealed in January that human remains had been stockpiled in the morgue’s coolers, some doubled up on trays. A few families complained the Medical Examiner's Office had turned them away while searching for loved ones, only to find their family members in the morgue all along.
Part of the problem stemmed from the state not paying funeral directors to bury the indigent. Those funds ceased last June, they said. Those same funeral directors donated transportation of the bodies to the far south side cemetary.
"When the funds are not available it puts a hardship not only on some family members, but if there are indigent situations as well it helps to contribue to the situation we had here in Cook County," explained Leonard Zielinski with the Cook County Funeral Director's Assocatiation.
The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Catholic Cemeteries offered up to 300 graves and services to help clear the backlog of remains.
"They made a very kind offer to myself months ago to help us with our backlog of indigent burals that need to be done. We now are takingt advantage of some of that," Dart said.
When commissioners asked last month why the offer wasn't accepted sooner, an administrator said the county wanted to make certain no individuals were buried in Catholic plots whose families wanted them buried elsewhere.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has since hired a new Director of Intake Operations for the facility to handle bodies as they come in. The medical examiner's office has also hired a new deputy investigator, with an official explaining that the county has a tough time retaining employees. Sometimes a new employee will be brought on board and trained only to later decide that they don't want to handle bodies.
Last month the Cook County Board approved measures making it easier to fire the Chief Medical Examiner, who until now has enjoyed a virtual lifetime appointment.
It takes 60 days for a body to become indigent. The bodies buried Wednesday entered the medical examiner's office back in November and December.