Family suing San Diego cemetery after remains of ‘Juneteenth trailblazer’ goes missing

Pictured: Sidney and Thelma Cooper, who were married on May 19, 1953, in San Diego. Cooper died in 2001 at the age of 71. (Photo via The Cooper Family/AP News)

OAN’s Brooke Mallory
5:36 PM – Monday, June 19, 2023

A family is suing a San Diego cemetery for losing their father’s remains, which they discovered 20 years later when they came back to bury their mother at the same burial plot.


Sidney Cooper, who was 71-years-old when he passed away in 2001, was buried in the family plot at Greenwood Memorial Park and Mortuary in San Diego, California.

In March 2023, when the family made plans to bury their 92-year-old mother Thelma next to their father, they were startled to discover that his corpse and casket were no longer in the plot.

According to their daughter, Lana Cooper-Jones, cemetery personnel confirmed that his remains were missing and indicated that employees did not know where Cooper’s bones were.

Legal action, which was filed on Friday, aims to compel the cemetery to locate the family patriarch’s bones and compensate the children for damages and negligence.

“I was absolutely distraught,” said Cooper-Jones on Friday. “It was like losing my father again, as well as my mom.”

Cooper-Jones stated that when her father died two decades ago, they performed a burial service but did not technically watch his casket being lowered into the earth.

According to the family’s attorneys, Eric Dubin and Annee Della Donna, cemetery officials have now backtracked and recently stated that they may know where his casket was buried.

The attorneys claim that an underground casket search discovered a coffin on a different site that was intended to be empty. Cooper-Jones voiced that the corpse should be exhumed and DNA tested.

“My mother only chose to be buried because my father wanted to be buried — otherwise, she would have been cremated,” she said. “And now she’s buried there alone. It’s heartbreaking.”

The attorneys say that the couple acquired their plot at Greenwood in 1992, roughly two blocks from the family’s Mountain View house.

Greenwood Cemetery came out with a public statement, saying that they are striving to resolve the situation and that the company’s ownership and administration have changed since the error occurred.

“While the placement of this family’s loved one occurred over 20 years ago under previous ownership and management, we recently discovered an issue with placement and are diligently working to confirm the placement of the loved one,” the cemetery said. “Our hope is to reunite the loved ones as intended as soon as possible.”

Cooper-Jones stated that the loss of their mother has been traumatic for her and her siblings. Except now, they have even more issues and stress to deal with.

“We do this every year to honor our father,” she continued. “Now, we don’t even know where he is… For over 20 years, the widow and family visited, prayed, cried, and honored their dad at the 319 lot and headstone, believing defendants had buried him there,” the lawsuit read. “Plaintiffs had been praying to an empty lot for over 20 years.”

The court petition was timed to coincide with the Cooper Family Foundation’s Juneteenth Freedom Festival, which took place at San Diego’s Memorial Park on Saturday.

Cooper promoted the Juneteenth holiday for decades before his death in his unofficial and beloved role as “Mayor of Imperial Avenue,” near where he managed a barbershop and a produce store.

Juneteenth festivities for the family developed from modest gatherings in the parking lot of Cooper’s businesses to larger gatherings in a local park.

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