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Mississippi families discover missing relatives ‘thrown away like’ trash in pauper’s field: report

Three Mississippi families had no idea their missing loved ones were buried in a county pauper’s field, according to a recent news report.

One grave was labeled “645,” for Jonathan David Hankins, a 39-year-old Rankin County man who disappeared in May 2022.

The mystery wasn’t what happened to Hankins. He was found dead in a hotel three days after he left home. It was likely an overdose.

But his mom didn’t know anything about her missing son until Dec. 4 — almost 19 months after his disappearance — when an NBC News reporter investigating the case told her that her son was buried at the Hinds County Penal Farm.

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Hankins was buried in a pauper’s field, which is typically used for deceased individuals without surviving family.

Except Hankins’ mother was still alive, but she was never notified despite months of followup calls to the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office, where Hankins was reported missing, NBC News reported.

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The sheriff’s office posted missing person posters about Hankins on its social media page and reportedly continued to search for the father of a young girl in August 2022, without knowing he was already buried in the Hinds County Penal Farm. 

The families of Dexter Wade and Marrio Moore went through similar nightmares. Wade died after being hit by a police car, and Moore was beaten to death.

As with Hankins, Wade’s and Moore’s deaths were handled by the Jackson Police Department and Hinds County Coroner’s Office, which failed to notify their families and buried them in the pauper’s field.

“It feels like they threw him away like trash,” Jeannie Jones, Hankins’ aunt, told NBC News. “No caring. No feeling.”

Hankins’ mother, Gretchen Hankins, told the news outlet she was never notified about her only son’s death. 

“I want people to know that somebody is not doing their job and making folks go through what I’ve been through,” she told NBC News. “Going that dang long and not calling people, that’s just inhumane. It’s wrong. It’s just wrong.”

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Fox News Digital left messages for the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office, the Jackson Police Department and the Hinds County Coroner’s Office, but none of the agencies immediately responded. 

But Melissa Faith Payne, a spokesperson for Jackson Police, told NBC News the department was not responsible for contacting family members after recovering Hankins’ body.

“From the scene, the victim’s body was immediately turned over to the Hinds County Coroner’s Office for further investigation, including an autopsy,” Payne said in a statement. 

“To this day, the Jackson Police Department has had no further communication with the Hinds County Coroner’s office concerning this case. We were never notified of the victim’s cause of death or identity.”

Jason Ware, a lawyer representing the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office, told the Mississippi Free Press officers tried to find her son. 

“We still had this individual listed as a missing person as of last week,” Ware said in a statement to the local news outlet, and the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office was only involved with the case because Hankins’ mother asked for its help.

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Gretchen Hankins reportedly reached out to civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who arranged for Wade’s exhumation for a proper burial. Crump is also representing Moore’s family.

“Families that report a loved one missing deserve immediate and accurate answers,” Crump said in a statement to NBC News. “We will work to unearth the truth about what happened to Jonathan and to seek justice for his family.”

​U.S. News Today on Fox News

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