A San Francisco construction crew renovating a house earlier this month was shocked to discover what is believed to be a 19th century casket containing the body of a three-year-old girl.
Erika Karner was having renovations done in her garage, when a worker called telling her that they had discovered the girl, complete with skin, teeth and hair.
“He said, ‘do you have any idea what this is?’” Karner told KPIX 5. “We think it’s a casket,” the worker told Karner.
The casket does not have a name or any other definable markings on it, making it difficult for officials to identify the girl.
For now, Karner, who is living in Idaho while her house is under construction, has named the little girl “Miranda.”
Officials believe the casket was left behind when a local cemetery was moved more than 80 years ago.
As San Francisco’s population expanded in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the prime land became too valuable to house the city’s dead.
Between the 1920s and 40s, most of San Francisco’s burial grounds were ordered out of the city, with the remains of more than 150,000 people moved south to the town of Colma.
Today, Colma is made up of 1,600 living residents – and more than 1.5 million dead.
Following the mass exhumation of San Francisco’s graveyards, headstones made room for households, including Karner’s home, which was built in 1936.
But officials say many bodies were missed in the unearthing process and are often uncovered today during residential construction.
The discoveries can leave homeowners wondering what to do with the remains.
“I was told to call a number of different agencies,” said Karner. “Everyone said, ‘don’t know what to tell you, but it’s your responsibility.’”
Karner said the city refused to reclaim the body, and would not issue her a burial permit to entomb the little girl without a death certificate.
“We couldn’t get one, so that put us in a position of unfortunately having this individual in our backyard and feeling awful as a mom knowing this is a small child,” said Karner.
Karner contacted burial grounds in Colma, but was asked to pay US$7,000 to take the little girl.
“This is somebody’s child who was lovingly put to rest,” said Elissa Davey, founder of Garden of Innocence.
The organization, which provides burials for abandoned and unidentified children, has come to Karner’s aid.
“The coroner told Karner, ‘It was a properly interred body…this body belongs to [her],’” said Davey.
But after the casket lay in limbo for 10 days in Karner’s backyard Davey said, “We’re going to help.”
Davey hopes donations will help provide the girl with a “dignified burial” and a new resting place in Colma in early June.
“On her headstone it will read Miranda.”
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