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Stolen remains found, returned to Clairton family

| Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, 10:33 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Robert Smith of Clairton opens a black box in the center console of his minivan from which his father's ashes were reported stolen on Monday afternoon.

Already distraught by the recent death of his loved one, Robert Smith was shocked to find his father's cremated remains stolen from a vehicle parked outside his Clairton home.

When Smith entered his minivan at approximately 2:45 Monday afternoon, he looked inside a black box in the center console, where he kept the ashes of the late Richard J. Smith. The elder Smith died June 9 at age 75. He was a Korean War veteran who served in the Army.

“I was on my way to a doctor's appointment, and I discovered the lid to the memorial was open,” Smith said. “The remains were missing along with his medal. Nothing else was taken, and there were other things that would be of value to a thief in the vehicle at the time.”

He received a call on Monday night from police, who said they had recovered the ashes.

“They spent the taxpayers' money well,” Smith said. “They did a good job.”

He went to the police station and picked up the ashes.

Smith said police reported a young girl found the remains on a bench at the KaBOOM! Playground built across from Club 46 in the Wilson neighborhood.

He plans to visit girl's home on Tuesday to thank her for the discovery.

“Most kids don't even pay attention to (stuff) like that,” Smith said. “She did the right thing, nonetheless, and needs to be thanked for it. I don't know the girl's name or anything.”

Smith said he believes a possible drug addict is using a portion of the ashes.

“I think they'll be getting a part of my father with their product,” Smith said. “You hear all the time they cut this with that or mix it with additives and stuff. You know this is a high drug area ... It's sad.”

A medal the father received in recognition of his service in Korea remains missing. Police are searching for suspects.

The van had been parked in an alley behind his Mendelssohn Avenue home for approximately 24 hours before Smith noticed the missing ashes. Smith believes someone may have mistaken the remains for drugs because they were in a plastic bag inside the memorial box.

“It's a shame that he lost his father and is grieving and then somebody stole the ashes,” neighbor Greg Beluschak said. “What's he supposed to do?”

Clairton police Chief Rob Hoffman confirmed on Monday afternoon that Smith reported the incident to local police and that the matter is under investigation. Smith said he would not pursue criminal charges if the ashes were returned safely to his home or to Clairton police.

Michael DiVittorio and Jennifer R. Vertullo are a staff writers for Trib Total Media. Divittorio can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com. Vertullo can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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