One body to lay to rest post Katrina

Harrison Co. Coroner Gary Hargrove
Harrison Co. Coroner Gary Hargrove

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Often times on TV shows, we see crimes solved and bodies identified in the span of the 30 minute program.

In reality, the job faced by the Harrison County Coroner Office is much more tedious and time consuming.  That's why more than five years after Hurricane Katrina, Coroner Gary Hargrove has just one case left to close.

"All the records for Katrina have been stored away except this one," said Hargrove.

The final file is a casket that was washed away during Hurricane Katrina and recovered on the beach.  The remains caused quite a stir Wednesday, when some construction workers stumbled upon the casket's storage spot. 

After the storm, Hargrove and his staff faced a nearly impossible task of dealing with both Katrina's victims, and the bodies washed from cemeteries.

"It's been a long painstaking process because normally the coroner, as every body thinks, we only deal with death. So, after Katrina, going into it I knew we were going to have a problem. And then it just kept mounting as they days went by," said Hargrove.

According to the coroner, there were more than 140 fatalities from the storm in Harrison and Hancock County.  In addition to identifying the victims, the coroner's office was responsible for identifying and placing all the bodies that were disinterred from the many cemeteries throughout the area.

The process for identifying remains includes running DNA or matching records. Post storm, many records were lost which makes it difficult make comparisons.

"It's been a long tedious task. It's been a long trail that I've traveled. I hope to never do it again," said Hargrove of his experiences with Katrina.

It's taken five years, but through tedious research and work, the coroner's office was able to identify and replace every disinterred body, except one.

The remaining white casket holds the remains of Inez Benoit.  According to Hargrove, the casket came from a cemetery in Pass Christian.

Now, they have to narrow down which cemetery.  Hargrove said they have several leads they are looking into.

"I'm hoping with the publicity of this, that this lady is returned to her family and her final resting place and I will be satisfied that the job we did in this county was done in the right way," said Hargrove.

According to Hargrove, unlike TV shows, it takes time to solve these mysteries.  Finding the right information can take a year or more.  Also, names common to the area, like Benoit, make it hard to narrow down relatives.  However, for Hargrove, it's worth it.

"It's important to me because they were washed out of that final resting place in peace and now I feel that it's my job to put them back where they belong, and give that family that same peace again," said Hargrove.

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