Community members are hoping to fund a proper burial for the body of a man found Wednesday wrapped in trash bags under the earth of his own backyard, neighbors said.
The man's wife buried her husband behind their porch in Apple Valley weeks ago, contending she could not afford to pay for a formal burial, San Bernardino County authorities said.
When the woman's neighbor, Colin Wilson, heard the news Wednesday, he and his sister set up an online fundraising page. By Friday afternoon, $1,500 of their $3,000 goal had been raised, according to the page.
"She seems like such a nice, hardworking, older lady," Wilson said. "I could imagine how difficult it might be, just the whole situation. I feel for her."
Wilson said the couple moved into their home earlier this year. He recalled seeing the wife weeding or trimming trees in her backyard every day.
The house in the 16000 block of Navajo Road has since been placed on the market, and its sale was pending, according to area listings.
When detectives arrived at the home Wednesday to check on the wife and her husband, they found her distraught, said Cindy Bachman, public information officer at the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
Wilson, whose backyard is separated from the woman's by a chain-link fence, witnessed the encounter: "She came out and pointed at the area, and she got on her knees and she started crying."
Authorities are continuing to investigate the cause of death, according to the Sheriff's Department, and the county coroner's office expects to conduct an autopsy in the next few days.
The district attorney's office will determine whether any criminal charges should be filed, Bachman said. So far, no foul play is suspected in the man's death.
California state law prohibits such makeshift graves. If someone wishes to have a family graveyard, an applicant must comply with rules similar to those required of a commercial cemetery, said Monica Vargas, a spokesperson for the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
In addition to receiving local approval, the applicant would need to be licensed by the state, which involves such steps as the establishment of a $35,000 endowment care fund and the designation of a licensed cemetery manager, Vargas said.
The cost of cremation is about $600, and burials can be significantly more expensive, according to local funeral homes.
Those who cannot afford an authorized cremation or burial are often encouraged to reach out to family members or churches for help, officials said.
Otherwise, the coroner's office remains responsible for the body. The coroner's office sponsors an indigent program for those who cannot afford a burial, officials said.
Following the qualification process, a body may be cremated for free, said coroner's office spokesperson Gabriel Morales.
San Bernardino County performed 312 such cremations last year, Morales said.