The Army has launched the first criminal investigation into the misplacement of remains at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia after discovering eight cremated remains dumped in a single grave site there.
Unlike past burial problems that may have been caused by human error, the discovery of eight urns in a single grave site marked "Unknown" is "not likely a mistake," said Christopher Grey, spokesman for the Army's Criminal Investigation Command. "It demanded an investigation to determine if there's any criminality involved in the burials."
The urns were found in October, but the discovery was not announced until Thursday.
The investigation follows a series of revelations that have marred the reputation of the country's most prestigious military burial ground and led to the ouster of its top two leaders.
So far, Army investigators have positively identified three of the dumped remains and are notifying those families. Officials are still trying to identify the other remains.
The investigation began in October after Kathryn Condon, director of the Army's National Cemeteries Program, became "aware of questionable practices," she said in a statement. Condon said eight sets of remains were buried under a headstone that read "Unknown" and cemetery records showed that only one set of remains was to be buried there.
Grey would not discuss how the remains might have ended up in a single plot or what particular laws may have been violated, saying "that will be determined as we move forward with the investigation."
Army regulations state that burials at national cemeteries "are considered permanent" and that absent a court order, disinterments require the approval of the top Army Memorial and Casualty Affairs official and "all close relatives of the decedent." Another law requires all graves in national cemeteries to have an appropriate marker.
The revelation follows an Army inspector general report, released in June, that cited widespread problems at the cemetery, including more than 200 unmarked or misidentified graves and at least four urns that had been unearthed and dumped in an area for excess dirt.
The latest discovery follows a series of revelations in August, in which one grave site at Arlington was found empty, another contained the wrong remains and a third had two sets of remains.