CREATED Oct 1, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - The story is as puzzling as it is unsettling. It has Tucson police wondering if a crime was even committed. Someone found an urn, filled with what looks like ashes, in a trashcan on the southwest side of Tucson.
How did it get there? Who's the owner? Why do some think they are a veteran's ashes? 9 On Your Side lists the clues and how you can help lay a possible American hero to rest.
Investigators said someone uncovered the mystery inside that trashcan on a vacant lot near South 8th Avenue and West Veterans Boulevard last week. It was a gym bag with an urn inside containing what looked like someone's ashes sealed in a bag, according to police.
“It's very usual to see something like this,” said Sgt. Chris Widmer.
Widmer said his department won't release a picture of the urn at this time. The agency wants whoever claims the urn to be able to describe it. The description TPD gave 9 On Your Side was that it was a cream-colored urn with flowers on it.
Right now, TPD doesn’t know how it got to the southwest side neighborhood.
“What are some of the possibilities?” 9 On Your Side reporter Kevin Keen asked Widmer.
“The thing we're concerned about is that maybe this was taken from someone's property -- either theft or a burglary -- and was discarded by that person,” Widmer said. ”Maybe the person who owns this property doesn't know it's missing.”
“So it could be part of a crime, it could not be part of a crime?” Keen asked the sergeant.
“Exactly,” he answered. “We don't know what the circumstances are. Someone may have gotten rid of it because they just don't want it.”
Here's another clue from police: the gym bag had the name "R. Sotelo" written on it. Investigators don't know who that is.
The bag, according to detectives, also had newspaper clippings, letters and photographs inside.
“One of the photographs looks like it was from a high school team,” Widmer said. “There was no markings, no anything else on it to determine the year it might've been taken or what school it was. We haven't been able to get much from that.”
Another clue: the urn was wrapped in what's known as as military-grade U.S. flag, TPD reported.
“If it's a military-grade flag, that means at some point in time, those cremains were identified as belonging to a veteran,” said Ed Torres, a veteran and member of the Missing in America Project in Arizona, which finds and properly buries unclaimed remains of veterans.
Torres’ gut told him the ashes belong to a veteran.
“TPD hopes they will find the owners,” Keen asked Torres, “but if they don't, will you step up?”
“Yes,” the Pima County coordinator for the nationwide project answered. “As [Missing in America Project], we will step up as soon as the Tucson Police Department have exhausted every available avenue to them to find the cremains and there is paperwork that the cremains were of a veteran.”
Torres said the letters and pictures found with the urn could help confirm the ashes belong to a veteran, if the ashes ultimately aren’t claimed.
If you know who owns the ashes or have information to share with investigators, call the Tucson Police Department non-emergency line at 791-4444.