Mourning those who are abandoned and forgotten

- They are the poor, the abandoned, the forgotten. At the end of their lives, when there's no one to claim them, a handful of strangers and a chain gang are there to pay final respects.

A dusty, desolate parcel of land in the west valley. No lush, green lawn, no headstones. This is the White Tank Cemetery, where those without names, without money, without homes or bank accounts, without loved ones are laid to rest.

On this day, Kevin Doyle was one of six whose funerals were held here. He passed away at the age of 48 at a care center. Not much is known about him. He was arrested three years ago and the care center had no contacts for him. Maricopa County officials could not find any family or friends of his.

There's no one to cry over the lost lives, no memories to share, no history to mourn. But there are people and prayers.

Aubrey Long was among the inmates, volunteers and county employees at the funerals. As a member of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office chain gang, this is the fourth time she has attended these burials. As she arranged dirt in the shape of a cross on the coffins, she lamented over her own life.

"The burials to me are more of an emotional thing to me. I feel like it's a way to bury my past and what I've been through and a way for me to start over," she said.

Having buried several lonely strangers, the 19-year-old has come to appreciate the time she has ahead of her.

"I detoured a little bit from my plan originally. Now I'm here and this is where I needed to be in order to get my life back on track," she said. "It definitely opens your eyes.. people go to jail for a multitude of reasons, but a lot of people, especially in their 20s.. a lot of us are with the drug epidemic, you realize any of these people could've been you."

59-year-old Laura Medaglia was buried on this day. She was found dead in a parking lot in west Phoenix. Her cause of death is still under investigation.

93-year-old Regina Treichler was buried next to Medaglia. Treichler died alone at an adult living center from congestive heart failure. The center said she had no family, friends or other contacts.

"We're there for them when they didn't have anybody else, so I think it means a lot for all of us to be here and to do this for them," said Long.

Volunteer chaplains from Andre House in Phoenix facilitate these services. Local funeral homes are contracted by the county to prepare the body and casket. MCSO chain gangs provide the labor.

Each burial costs taxpayers $350 and is approved after a thorough investigation finds there is no one else who can claim or pay.

Maricopa County goes above and beyond to make sure the indigent are well respected in their interment process," said Catherine Robbins, Director of the Maricopa County Public Fiduciary.

This scene plays out every Thursday with different decedents, different chain gang members and different volunteers, but one person remains constant. A man comes out every week. He doesn't know who is being buried, but he gives each person a last show of love.

"Keith Williamson comes out here on his own, brings a bouquet of long stemmed roses and places a rose on each casket before it's lowered," said Robbins. "He brings a beautiful story out here by honoring every week religiously the people being interred with that respect and that consideration."

After the soil is placed over the coffins, a small, circular metal marker with a name and date is the only remnant of that person's time on this Earth.

About 600 people are buried at the White Tanks Cemetery each year through the indigent program.

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