- Last June, Shavonne Morton trusted Akes Family Funeral Home in California to handle services for her stillborn baby.
- She wanted the baby, named Jamila, to have an “intact” body to honor at a viewing.
- But the funeral home gave her the “runaround,” and now she’s unsure what happened to Jamila’s body.
Shavonne Morton’s baby girl, Jamila, was stillborn when she gave birth last June.
At 22 weeks, she and her husband, Jamahl, were told that Jamila had no heartbeat. But they chose to carry out the pregnancy and give birth because they wanted to have a physical body to honor.
After leaving the hospital, the couple gave the body to the Akes Family Funeral Home in California, a place they were already familiar with when they cremated their first daughter nine years ago.
But this time was different.
It started with unanswered phone calls
Morton and her husband would call the funeral home ceaselessly to ask about the status of the body.
Then days turned into weeks. And no returned calls.
“Last time, I was able to view my child before the cremation,” Morton, 41, said in an interview, recalling the process for their first daughter’s funeral. “But this time, it was like excuses.”
Morton said the family paid the funeral home in full for its services last year, so the lack of communication was especially jarring.
“It was weird. I don’t know if they didn’t want me to see her, or if something was wrong, but they wouldn’t answer the phone lines,” she said.
The family wanted to view the body one last time before cremation, Morton said. After weeks of silence from the funeral home, they finally heard back. To their shock, the funeral home told them Jamila’s body had begun to decay and discouraged them from viewing it, saying the family wouldn’t want to see her in that state, Morton recalled.
Morton said she wanted her two sons, ages 7 and 13, to view the body as well, so they could know that they would have at one point had a younger sister. Morton said one of her sons looked forward to meeting his sister. He “touched my belly every day, and I wanted him to at least see her and have closure,” she said.
That’s another reason she chose to give birth, even though they knew Jamila would be stillborn. The day doctors told her Jamila had no heartbeat, they gave Morton a choice. She could have the baby vacuumed out through her uterus and be done with it, or she could go through labor and push the baby out.
“I went through the whole labor and delivery so I could have her intact,” Morton said. “I thought, ‘I can’t have her dismembered.'”
The birth lasted between two and three hours, she said, and the pain was excruciating.
But at least the body was whole and would be able to be sent off to the funeral, she thought.
Nine years ago, the process was ‘seamless’
Morton said her attorney came across numerous positive reviews on Google while researching the funeral home. But the reviews started to sour within the last two years.
It’s unclear whether that’s because of the COVID-19 pandemic or other factors.
Nine years ago, though, the process “was seamless.”
“It was a piece of cake, honestly,” Morton said.
She said she had been viewed before cremation, and nobody had denied that request.
Morton said she had wanted to take Jamila’s remains and scatter them over the ocean. Her husband thought about keeping her ashes. They also considered having a service for the girl. Either way, neither of them feels as if they were given a real choice in the matter.
“That was our last closure, and so I felt robbed of that,” Morton said.
More ‘runaround’ about Jamila
The funeral home said they would contact Morton when the cremation was finished, she told Insider.
But they never did. Morton called again. And again there was no answer.
“I called, I called, and I would just get the runaround from each office,” she said. The phones “would just ring and ring, off the hook. And so I just thought that was weird. But you’re grieving, and it feels weird you’re chasing down the remains.”
Then her husband, Jamahl, decided to visit in person.
Akes has two locations. One of its mortuaries is located in Corona, California, and the other in Riverside.
When he arrived to the Corona location, staff members told him Jamila’s remains were sent to the one in Riverside. So he went to Riverside, where he learned that the mortuary had gone up in flames.
The funeral home caught fire on November 5, according to an incident report from the Riverside Fire Department obtained by Insider. The Riverside location had two buildings that were connected by vents, the report said. First responders were able to prevent the fire from reaching the main building. But the interior sustained smoke damage due to smoke traveling through the vents and into the main building.
An arson investigator, who determined that the fire started due to “faulty wiring,” ruled it was accidental.
Multiple computer printers and electronic devices were all plugged into an electrical outlet that “had extensive damage and was completely burned through,” arson investigator Rafael Llamas wrote in the report. “The wiring entering and leaving the outlet had burned through the insulation and had bare wiring exposed.”
Nobody from Akes called Morton to let her know of the fire
Today, over a year later, Morton still doesn’t know if her daughter’s body was actually cremated or lost in the fire.
“This is so crazy. Now you’re telling me they have a fire, so now I’m not sure if something happened to her remains,” Morton said. “I don’t know what to think.”
While on-site, a staff member told Jamahl that someone would eventually contact them. The staff member assured them that the bodies were safe.
But Morton, due to weeks of silence and a total lack of communication, is unsure whether to believe it.
“That was last year, in November, and I have not heard from them since,” Morton told Insider in a recent interview.
Now she is considering legal action.
“I would have never known anything unless my husband just showed up,” she said.
“I’m telling you, this could easily damage families,” she added. “It hurts. You feel like you don’t have closure. You feel like you were robbed of a service for her. It was just weird.”
When she lawyered up, the funeral home changed its tune, Morton said. They told her lawyer that the body had already been cremated in August last year, she said.
“I don’t know what to believe,” Morton said. “I don’t know if that’s my daughter. It’s been so long.”
She continued, “We’re just going off of what they said. But I’m just like, ‘So how do I know that’s her remains?’ It’s just sketchy. I don’t know. I just feel like something’s just off.”
Fire engines that responded to the scene on November 5 noted in the report that some of the firefighters and first responders had been tasked with removing bodies from the mortuary. It’s unclear whose bodies they removed from the mortuary.
The Akes Family Funeral Home did not return Insider’s request for comment.