Meet the Woman Who Organizes Funerals For Children Who Were Abandoned After They Died
When Elissa Davey read an article in 1998 about a baby boy whose body was dumped in a college campus trash can, she couldn't forget his story.
A month later, wondering what had become of him, she called the county coroner who told her he still had the body. It would go to an unmarked grave if not claimed, the coroner explained. Davey asked what she had to do to claim the body of a child who wasn't hers.
"Show me you have a dignified place to put him," the coroner replied.
So that's exactly what she did.
Davey, who has five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren of her own, created "Garden of Innocence" for children whose remains have never been claimed. Since that article in 1998, she and her team of volunteers have provided 298 memorial services and burials for children at nine gardens across California.
"We feel that these children deserve to have their journey completed," she told InsideEdition.com. "To us, we're doing what we feel is right."
Davey calls coroners to find out about children in need of a final resting place. She then asks cemeteries for plots, and volunteers help her with the rest.
Each body has its own story, she said. One was left in a river, others were murder victims, and some were born prematurely to families who left them in the hospital. But Garden of Innocence does not share the details at the memorial services - instead, they want to focus on the children.
"We don't know the parents' reasons for leaving the children and we don't question it," she said. "It's not our story to tell. We focus on today."
The babies are given names and then their remains are placed inside small wooden caskets, which are made by Boy Scouts and lined with lace fitted by volunteers. Each child is given a handmade blanket, a soft toy and a personalized poem. Law enforcement, the military and local residents go to the services which - thanks mostly to word of mouth - are now attended by as many as 300 people. Musicians and a singer perform for the crowd.
"They're very moving," Davey said. "We've also become a place where people find closure."
People who have lost children themselves find it comforting, while others credit the gardens with saving their own lives, she said.
"We've saved people's lives by giving them something to focus on," she said. "We're helping the living, the dead, the people that are hurting."
Davey has been named a L'Oreal Paris Women of Worth Honoree for her work, but she said it's just the beginning. As soon as they get the funds, they hope to set up more gardens so that they can bring comfort and closure to the rest of the country, she said.
"I once asked volunteers who lined the caskets, 'What were you thinking when you did that?' They said, 'It was the most peaceful thing I've ever done.' To me that's what the garden is all about," Davey said. "When you have a problem, go into the garden. Go and tell the children. You'll feel better."
To read about more of L'Oreal's incredible Women of Worth, visit their website here.