CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

A 3rd Mississippi family claims they weren’t notified their son was buried in Hinds County pauper’s cemetery

Dec 12, 2023, 7:00 AM | Updated: May 28, 2024, 11:05 am

A lawyer for the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the details of Gretchen Hankins’ mi...

A lawyer for the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the details of Gretchen Hankins’ missing person report but declined to comment further. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

(Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

Originally Published: 11 DEC 23 21:16 ET
Updated: 11 DEC 23 21:38 ET

(CNN) — Gretchen Hankins says she waited a year and seven months to find out what had happened to her missing son – only to learn he had died and already been buried.

Earlier this month, journalists told the family Jonathan David Hankins’ body had been buried in a pauper’s cemetery in Hinds County, Mississippi, in August 2022.

Now, Gretchen Hankins is demanding accountability. The Hankins family is the third family to work with prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump after discovering a family member had been buried in the cemetery without notifying the family first.

Hankins said she reported her son as missing to the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department in June 2022. She never heard from anyone with the department about his whereabouts, she said.

Jonathan Hankins was found dead in a Jackson, Mississippi, hotel room in neighboring Hinds County, according to Crump.

When asked for comment on the Hankins case, Jackson police told CNN in a statement they responded to a hotel room on May 23, 2022, regarding the discovery of a body, which was immediately taken to the Hinds County Coroner’s Office. The department was not informed of the victim’s identity or cause of death, the statement said.

“Hankins’ death certificate indicated that he died of natural causes, but failed to indicate that he tested positive for meth and fentanyl,” Crump said in a news release.

Saying she was still angry about the news, Hankins told CNN, “They said they were looking, but they weren’t looking too hard.”

“I want them to lose their jobs because they didn’t do their job,” she said.

Hankins’ “family did not learn about his whereabouts until a recent news report about the discovery of a body that apparently had been buried in August 2022,” according to a news release from Crump.

Crump also represents the family of Dexter Wade, who was fatally struck by a Jackson police officer in a cruiser and buried without his family’s knowledge, and Marrio Moore, who was also buried in the same pauper’s field. Pauper’s cemeteries are generally where unclaimed or unidentified bodies are buried by authorities.

“Jonathan David Hankins’ family has been desperately seeking answers about their loved one’s disappearance for more than a year. Now, to find out from news reports that his body was found in the same county where Dexter Wade’s body was buried after being struck by a police cruiser raises disturbing questions,” Crump said.

CNN has reached out to the Jackson mayor’s office as well as the Hinds County Coroner’s Office for comment. A lawyer for the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the details of Gretchen Hankins’ missing person report but declined to comment further.

The Jackson Police Department announced in November it would institute a death notification policy. The department didn’t previously have a policy.

“We want to make sure were giving the best police service to our citizens, so we have a death notification policy that is signed as of today and we’ll roll out today,” Jackson Police Chief Joseph Wade said during a November news conference.

Hankins said her son struggled with drug use and had disappeared for short periods of time in the past. She feels he was treated “like trash.”

“They didn’t have to throw him out like that,” she said.

CNN’s Shawn Nottingham contributed to this report.

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A 3rd Mississippi family claims they weren’t notified their son was buried in Hinds County pauper’s cemetery