“I kept thinking, ‘It’s gotta be here.’ And sure enough, we found it,” Harkins said this week.
The Harkins family buried the ashes of 26-year-old Aileen Harkers in Mt. Marion Cemetery last September. Aileen was deaf, and did not hear neighbors who were trying to alert her to the fire on Sept. 10, 2007. She was declared dead after the blaze was put out.
This week, family members requested that the urn containing Aileen’s ashes be moved from her grandfather’s plot to an adjacent plot that they’d purchased for her. But on Wednesday morning, Harkins said, someone from the cemetery called his terminally ill wife, Linda, from whom he is separated, and told her their daughter’s urn was missing and must have been stolen.
A family panic ensued.
“It was an awful day for everyone involved,” said Aileen’s sister, Alicia McIntosh, 24. “I thought everyone was going to have a heart attack.”
Harkins said he reported the apparent theft to the town of Saugerties Police Department, at the cemetery’s suggestion, but also went to the grave site himself because he couldn’t believe someone would steal his daughter’s ashes.
Seeing that the grave didn’t seem completely dug up, Harkins and his son Joseph, 23, started to dig with their hands while Aileen’s sister and mother, who has cancer, looked around the cemetery to see if the urn was nearby.
“Myself and my son got down on our hands and knees, started digging with our hands,” Harkins said.
Harkins said they were approached by the cemetery director, who questioned them but didn’t stop them.
“He had no clue what was going on,” Harkins said. “He never apologized. He never said nothing.”
Harkins said he and his son discovered the urn in the grave just as an officer from the Saugerties town police showed up to investigate.
Harkins said even though the urn hadn’t been stolen, the mix-up left the family upset and confused.
“It’s crazy. We’re all in shock,” he said.
McIntosh, Aileen’s sister, said the cemetery director called the family a couple hours later, apologized and said there would be no charge for moving Aileen’s urn to the new grave.
“They really should have checked better,” McIntosh said. “You’d better have dug six feet in every direction before you call and say, ‘Your family member is missing.'”
The family said the timing of the mix-up was especially painful because it happened just a week before the first anniversary of Aileen’s death.
Harkins said he is considering bringing a lawsuit against the cemetery.
A reporter’s phone call to the cemetery office was not immediately returned.
After Aileen’s death, a scholarship fund in her memory was established at the New York School for the Deaf in White Plains.
Originally published by the Daily Freeman.