Families paid respects to wrong graves for 39 years
For 39 years, Mr Marn Chuan Lee paid respects at his grandmother's grave at least once every three months, keeping the grave tidy and even installing garden lights by her tombstone.
But when the grave in Choa Chu Kang Chinese Cemetery was exhumed in August this year, he knew it was not his grandmother's as it contained stuffed toys, colour pencils and a necklace he did not recognise.
"I thought I was going crazy. It felt like someone kidnapped her and we had no idea where she could be," the 50-year-old told The Straits Times.
He informed the National Environment Agency (NEA), which on Oct 2 exhumed two unclaimed graves adjacent to the one that supposedly belonged to Mr Marn's grandmother.
Based on the agency's analysis, the tombstone of one grave was misaligned, which led to other adjacent headstones being wrongly tagged to grave plots.
But the adjacent graves contained men's clothing and nothing resembling Mr Marn's grandmother's belongings.
He finally found his grandmother's remains on Oct 11, after the NEA exhumed five more graves.
Responding to queries yesterday, an NEA spokesman said the burials were performed on a single day 39 years ago.
"The next of kin of one of the grave plots did not erect a headstone, and due to the misalignment, one of the headstones was found to be straddling the space over two grave plots."
The misalignment affected nine graves in all.
The spokesman added that NEA has since verified the buried remains with all the affected families.
The agency also apologised.
This is the first time NEA has encountered such an issue in the 16,800 exhumations conducted as of Sept 30 this year under Phase 7 of its exhumation programme at the Choa Chu Kang cemetery, its spokesman said.
Mr Marn, who contacted Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao about the matter, said he has decided to keep his grandmother's ashes in his home while waiting to house them at a Chinese temple.
"I only just got (my grandmother) back, I'm scared I might lose her again," he said.