All caskets verified after confusion at Nome city morgue

Confusion at the city morgue caused a back-and-forth Tuesday between the Nome Police Department and the City of Nome.

The Nome Cemetery. (Photo by Laura Kraegel, KNOM -Nome)
The Nome Cemetery. (Photo by Laura Kraegel, KNOM -Nome)

Tuesday night, Nome Police posted a message on Nome Announce, the community email thread, asking the public for assistance in identifying persons at the city morgue. Police Chief John Papasodora said the message was sent after police responded to a death investigation Tuesday afternoon.

“When we transported the person to the morgue, I found that there were several caskets that appeared to have been there for quite some time,” Papasodora said. “The caskets were positioned in such a way that I couldn’t readily identify who was in them nor did I know who the next-of-kin was.”

Mayor Richard Beneville, however, said there is no uncertainty.

“It was erroneous to say we needed help, because we didn’t,” Beneville said. “The city knows exactly who is in there.”

Beneville said he isn’t sure how the mix-up happened. City Clerk Bryant Hammond and Christine Schultz, the Director of Social Services at Norton Sound Health Corporation, visited the morgue Wednesday and verified that each casket is clearly labeled.

Papasodora said that he probably overlooked information that would have been available at City Hall. He also said Nome Announce was not the best platform to seek out more information.

“I definitely do apologize if I offended anybody in the community,” Papasodora said. “There was no intent to offend or disrespect anyone. The intent was to gain information that would help us do our job. We will hopefully revise our processes in the very near future and that way, this will not be an issue in the future.”

On behalf of the city, Clerk Hammond also apologized on Nome Announce Wednesday for the original message.

Beneville said the priority is that people at the morgue receive respectful, timely burials.

“We’re a town with a very big heart,” Beneville said. “The last thing that the City of Nome wants to do is to appear to be or to be cold-hearted. We simply are not.”

Papasodora said the police department is working with city and hospital officials to develop better communication on issues related to the morgue. Beneville said the city has also recently formed a new committee to oversee the cemetery.