Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove identified his county's last unknown victim of Hurricane Katrina on Thursday, giving closure to the family of 20-year-old Frank Jones, a Gulfport man buried on the storm's one-year anniversary under the name "Strength."
Jones was found in the canal near Garden Park Medical Center in Gulfport and an autopsy concluded that he drowned. On Aug. 29, 2006, Jones, though unknown at the time, was buried in a joint ceremony with a then-unidentified storm victim called "Will" -- later identified as James Blair, 78, of Pass Christian -- at Pine Ridge Gardens in the Evergreen Cemetery off 28th Street in Gulfport. The two were buried near three unidentified female victims of 1969's Hurricane Camille named "Faith, Hope and Charity."
Hargrove said Jones' identification came through DNA comparisons of relatives, which were performed by the University of North Texas, which contracts with the state and is one of the few labs in the country that does mitochondrial DNA tests required in this case. The results arrived in Gulfport on Wednesday. The family did not attend the press conference Thursday and Hargrove said they were not available for comments. But the grim report for the family also came with the relief of knowing what happened to Jones, the coroner said.
For the team at the coroner's office, as well as the other agencies that helped, years of work trying to identify the storm's victims were finally over."Today is a good day, a very good day," Hargrove said.
For 3 1/2 years, the coroner's office was trying to determine who the young man was. One clue was an unfinished tattoo on his arm. The "s" was incomplete in the phrase "Love Jones." Hargrove said the tattoo was unfinished because Jones' mother apparently caught him making it and threw away his supplies.
Hargove said Jones was in his house on Klein Road when the eye of the storm came over, but not long after he left on his bike and didn't say where he was going or why he was leaving. Relatives assumed that he was in the community possibly and didn't contact them. A missing person report was never filed, Hargrove said.
Hargrove said the tattoo indicated that the victim's name might be Jones. He searched many government databases, to no avail, to see if there were any people named Jones that might have been recorded as having the same tattoo. "Trust me, there are a lot of Joneses out there," Hargrove said.
The victim's family didn't contact the coroner's office until over a year after Katrina, Hargrove said. Jones' mother had incorrectly told the coroner that Jones had multiple tattoos and the victim Hargrove was trying to identify only had one, he said. But Jones' sister eventually provided the coroner's office with correct information that led Hargrove to believe Jones was Strength and DNA tests were ordered.
Hargrove said the family will decide whether Jones' body remains in the cemetery beside "Will" or the family can move them to another cemetery, possibly next to Jones' mother, who died since Jones went missing.