It's time for Beaufort County to give a proper burial to the unclaimed remains that have been stored away in boxes for decades at the coroner's office.
Coroner Ed Allen proposes that the county set aside land where the cremated remains could be buried.
A simple funeral service could be held, and a modest marker could be placed at the site bearing the names of the deceased and dates of birth and death.
Currently, the cremated remains of 68 people are stacked on a shelf in the corner of the coroner's evidence closet. The dates of death go back as far as 1982.
Some boxes contain cremated remains of babies.
Most of the 68 died alone and had no one to claim their remains, or their relations were too poor to reimburse the $600 to $1,000 cost of cremation.
So they stay on the shelf gathering dust -- a sad reminder that Beaufort County could and should do better.
Other counties have found low-cost, yet respectful, ways to provide proper burials. It's not required by the state, but those counties have rightly seen it as a moral obligation.
Richland County provides a good example for Beaufort County.
A few times a year, the coroner's office sponsors a ceremony at a county-owned pauper's cemetery. The cremated remains are buried in rows following a brief funeral service that can be attended by family, friends and the community.
The service provides a dignified end to the lives of the forgotten and poor.
The Richland County coroner estimates his office handles about 60 to 100 unclaimed remains each year, at a cost of about $50,000, which also includes work in tracking down next of kin.
Beaufort County's costs would be far less.
Allen estimates his office has only about two unclaimed cases a year.
The 68 currently in his office have accumulated over the past three decades. So after a mass funeral for them, the county could hold a burial service once a year or so for those that follow.
Allen's office already searches out next of kin and pays for cremation.
The county might be able to use land it already owns or a local cemetery could donate space. If land is available, the only cost would be buying low-cost markers and providing routine upkeep at the cemetery.
Some might be concerned that families of the deceased will take advantage of the county by not claiming remains even though they could afford the expense.
In counties that provide burial, coroners charge the estates for reimbursement of cremation and perform due diligence to track down responsible family members. Some of the deceased were also cared for by hospice, hospitals or other establishments that know the family's financial resources. And Allen's office already finds out much of that information during its normal duties.
Throughout history, societies have set aside places for burying the poor and unknown.
The county, like its counterparts all over the state and nation, has a responsibility to take care of the dead that go unclaimed.
Creating a paupers' cemetery won't cost much and won't require much effort, yet it will go a long way toward doing what is right.