Woman says post office lost her father's ashes

After Candace Brooks' father, Jessie Cotton, died, no one could tell her what happened to the Korean War vet's ashes.

CBS Sacramento

CAMERON PARK, Calif. -- A Cameron Park woman says the post office lost her father's ashes, CBS Sacramento reports. They were later found in a damaged box.

For a time after Candace Brooks' father, Jessie Cotton, died, no one could tell her what happened to the Korean War vet's ashes. They'd been shipped from a Florida funeral home to California through United States Postal Service Priority Mail. 

The only way to legally ship cremated remains is through USPS, which has a six-page guide on how to package and ship them.

It appears the funeral home followed all the rules.

But Cotton's remains got lost along the way -- sometime following a scan from USPS in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Brooks said the postal service had no answers but offered to refund the cost of shipping.

"I couldn't even believe they said that to me," Brooks said. 

"Just find my dad," she added.

Cotton's memorial service was put on hold.

"I'm appalled. I'm appalled that something this personal is lost," said Brooks.

CBS Sacramento turned to the postal service to find out what happened to Cotton's remains.

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.

"It was an illegible address," Cheathon said.

CBS Sacramento was there the day Brooks received the heavily damaged box, repackaged in postal tape. Under the tape was a label that read "cremated remains."

"I'm so happy that he's here but I don't know how to react right now," Brooks said. 

Inside the box, bubble wrap was popped and a box protecting the ashes was ripped. Inside that box, the plastic urn carrying her father's remains was cracked open. His ashes, in a plastic bag, were loose.

"The box is cracked. We have -- my dad's ashes are sitting here on our granite countertop," she said.

They were also on her hands.

"I just want someone to tell me, is this how you always treat someone's loved one," she said.

CBS Sacramento sent images of the box to the Florida funeral home, which said: "USPS should have paid closer attention to Mr. Cotton's remains. 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."

The postal service can't say what happened, but called it unfortunate.

"We want to apologize to the family for any undue hardship, anguish," said Cheathon.

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

"We're going to do everything we can 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.