Old remains of the dead being reunited with their families in Benton County

BENTON COUNTY, Wash. -- Sealed in a box. These remains are people who died in Benton County...37 of them.

Deputy Coroner, Michelle Ganack explains, "It seems so sad to have them in a cupboard in the back of our office."

But a couple weeks ago, the coroner's office got a call from a son looking for his mother, Linda Biggs. He never knew what happened to her, and after searching the web, he saw she died of a heart attack here in Benton County. Michelle Ganack helped get the remains to Linda's son.

"It makes you feel really good when you can get these family members back together," Michelle says.

Michelle sent the remains to the son in California.

"He was ecstatic. He got the whole family back together. Had a family reunion. It brought him to tears," She continues.

Every coroner's officer is required to keep unclaimed remains for two years. Linda's remains sat in Benton County for 12 years before her son called.

"Technology is huge right now. People can do things you could not have dreamed of 10 years ago," Coroner, John Hansens says.

The Benton County Coroner recently posted a list of all the unclaimed remains, online. Since then, two people have been reunited with their loved ones.

"It's a bright and shiny moment. It's really wonderful," Michelle explains.

And it's a savings for taxpayers, too. The coroner's office doesn't have the time or the budget to search for the families of the dead. Remains are kept in a secured area while they wait, taking up much-needed space.

"We would like to clear that area and open it up for more of our evidence that we need to keep back there," Coroner John Hansens tells KEPR.

But Michelle knows to some, it's more than just space.

She says, "I truly believe these people need to be buried and be at peace."