Call Kurtis Investigates: The Postal Service Lost My Dad’s Ashes

CAMERON PARK (CBS13) – After Candance Brooks’ father, Jessie Cotton, passed away, no one could tell her what happened to the Korean War vet’s ashes.

“I just want my dad’s remains,” she said.

Cotton’s ashes were shipped from a Florida funeral home to California through the United States Post Service Priority Mail, which is the only legal way to ship cremated remains.

But Cotton’s ashes got lost somewhere along the way.

Brooks feels like she lost her dad twice.

“This is something that’s so sacred,” she said.

The last scan from USPS was in Jacksonville, Florida. Brooks says the postal service had no answers but offered to refund the cost of shipping.

Brooks said, “I couldn’t even believe they said that to me. Just find my dad.”

Now Cotton’s memorial service is on hold.

“I’m appalled. I’m appalled that something this personal is lost,” said Brooks.

We turned to the postal service to find out what happened to Cotton’s ashes.

Candace Cheathon with USPS in Sacramento was quick to respond.

“Immediately I took it as if it was my family member,” said Cheathon.

USPS launched a nationwide search, and the ashes turned up at a mail recovery center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Cheathon said the issue, “It was an illegible address.”

We were there the day Brooks received the heavily damaged box, repackaged in postal tape. And under that tape, a label that read cremated remains.

Brooks said, “I’m so happy he’s here, but I don’t know how to react right now.”

She couldn’t believe how they handled her dad and the condition his ashes showed up.

“I can’t even fathom it. It’s beyond disbelief,” she said.

Inside the tattered box, the bubble wrap was popped, no longer protecting the ashes. And inside that box, a plastic urn carrying her father’s remains is cracked open and his ashes in a plastic bag are loose.

“The box is cracked. My dad’s ashes are sitting here on our countertop,” she said, with ashes also on her hands, “I just want someone to tell me is this how you always treat someone’s loved one.”

We sent images of the box to the Florida funeral home which says the “USPS should have paid closer attention to Mr. Cottons ashes. It appears the package was run over/dragged at the airport by the transfer trailer.” Adding, “nobody should have received their loved ones cremated remains in this condition.”

USPS can’t say what happened but calls it unfortunate.

“We want to apologize to the family, for any undue hardship or anguish,” said Cheathon.

Brooks is pleased to have her dad back but says, “he deserves better.”

“We’re going to get him to his final resting place. But he deserves answers. We deserve answers,” she said.

The postal service says it will make every effort to improve service going forward.

As we mentioned, the only way to legally ship cremated remains is through USPS, which provides a six-page guide on how to do it.

And it appears this funeral home followed all those rules.

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