Coroner’s office gives inside look on finding family of deceased

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) Workers at the Allen County Coroner’s office said the family of the victim in Allen County’s most recent homicide was more difficult to find than some other cases. That made NewsChannel 15 wonder: How do workers at the coroner’s office notify the victim’s family when they’re no where to be found?

“When people hear of the coroner’s office, they know we deal with dead people but they don’t really know what it is that we do,” said Michael Burris, Chief Investigator for the Allen County Coroner’s Office, “Our primary job is to determine the identity of the deceased, the cause and manner of death.”

However, it expands from there.

Burris said the next step is notifying his or her family, or next of kin.

“I didn’t know it was as big a problem as before taking this position as what it was. It’s amazing that when we do finally make contact, they say well I haven’t spoke to them in 15 years, how did you ever find me?” said Burris.

Of the 167 cases this year, they’ve had to extensively search for family members in four of them.

“To me, it’s really sad people die and I know that there’s someone somewhere who cares or who would miss them,” said Patt Kite, Senior Investigator, Deputy Coroner of the Allen County Coroner’s Office.

The Coroner’s Office first checks law enforcement records for arrests, and who they listed as emergency contacts. If that falls through, they check medical records. The next step is the internet. Google, Find a Grave and Facebook come in handy.

“There’s a lot of information that you can get from Facebook that you would not normally have.”

Still, the office has cases where they couldn’t find families.

“In some point in time, we have to say we’ve exhausted all of our searches and all attempts have been made and then the coroner’s office assumes control of the body and requests a cremation,” said Burris.

In the nine years that Kite has been there, they have found a next of kin for all homicide victims because they’re usually local.

“Pretty good, pretty good record I’d say,” said Kite.

If they can’t find any next of kin, the coroner’s office assumes control of the body and works with local funeral homes. The person’s township is responsible for burial costs. Kite said it is very rare to use a family member to identify the deceased; it’s only happened two or three times in her career.



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