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Bodies pile up at Cook County morgue; activists outraged

Cook County officials say they are being forced to change morgue procedures due to an overflow of unclaimed bodies. Charlie Wojciechowski reports.

CHICAGO – Outraged pastors and community activists on Friday descended upon the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office and called for an independent investigation after reports that bodies have been piling up for weeks.

At least one activist openly called for the facility's director, Dr. Nancy L. Jones to step down.

"Somebody needs to be held accountable for what happened," said Dawn Valenti, who works to help families find missing loved ones.

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle a day earlier said Jones will remain -- for now -- but called for a top-to-bottom review of the facility.


"This is a reminder of how my ancestors -- how the remains of our ancestors were treated like garbage," Peggy Hudgens said through tears at the building at 2121 W. Harrison St.

Hudgens claimed to have been trying to resolve her brother's death and burial since October.

The issue has been simmering for months, if not years. As many as 363 bodies were reportedly once collected in a cooler designed to hold just 300. Ministers gathered Friday to pray for the deceased and to call for justice.

Anti-violence community activist Andrew Holmes was among the protesters and wondered aloud about the accountability of missing persons at the morgue.

"We want those deceased finger-printed and identified. We still have a lot of missing, unclaimed and missing people that have not been found," he said.

Holmes focused specifically on Carmelita Johnson, a woman who'd gone missing and was ultimately found in the facility. Her family said they tried to find her for more than a year. Johnson has since been buried.

The Illinois Department of Labor said it's also opened an investigation into "worker safety issues."

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