Nothing about the life or death of Leann Yuri Jones was the way it’s supposed to be.
She was born in a bathtub to a mother who hadn’t told anyone she was pregnant. Hours later, the infant coughed and stopped breathing.
Fearing her secret would be discovered, 22-year-old Antwonetta Jones took Leann’s body, put it inside a cardboard box, taped the box closed and placed it by the trash compactor at her Slidell apartment complex.
On Thursday, a group of women from a Lacombe-based nonprofit tried to bring some dignity and purpose to Leann’s tragic story. Compassionate Burials for Indigent Babies paid for a proper funeral and burial at Honaker Funeral Home in Slidell.
After the funeral, the women said they hoped the event would bring greater awareness of Louisiana’s “safe haven” law.
The funeral — held under a maroon tent in the stifling heat — was private at the wishes of the child’s grandmother. A priest presided, and a member of the Knights of Columbus carried Leann’s tiny wooden casket and placed it on a pedestal for the half-hour service.
Three family members attended, but not Antwonetta Jones, who remains in the St. Tammany Parish Jail facing murder charges.
When the service ended, Leann was buried about 50 feet away in an area of the cemetery reserved for children’s graves. A simple name placard was placed over the freshly turned earth of the burial plot, far less ornate than the gravestones that surround it.
It was an emotional service, said Lise Naccari, the president of the nonprofit. Leann’s grandmother, who has not been named, was hit especially hard — she lost a grandchild and a daughter in one shocking event.
That might have been prevented if Antwonetta Jones had known about Louisiana’s safe haven law, which allows new mothers to leave their babies at emergency rooms, police and fire stations and other designated places with no questions asked, Naccari said. Police have said Antwonetta Jones told them she felt she had no other options besides caring for the baby at home or letting it die.
The Compassionate Burials group, which was founded in 2003, rarely does burials of babies who were, like Leann, homicide victims. Altogether, it buried 21 indigent babies last year, most of them in the New Orleans area. It has done six so far this year, has three scheduled and was recently contacted about five more babies needing burial.
“There’s a demand,” Naccari said.
How indigent babies are handled usually depends on the individual parish coroner’s office, she said. Sometimes, the babies are buried in mass graves; in other cases, they are cremated and then buried.
Compassionate Burials for Indigent Babies tries to minister to the grieving mothers, as well — an effort born out of Naccari’s own experience with a miscarriage on her 30th birthday.
“It took me years to get over it,” she said.
The nonprofit pays for the funerals through members’ donations, money it raises and a Gofundme account. But contributions are lagging, and Thursday’s burial cost the group about half its account.
“We’re not fundraisers,” Naccari said.
Nevertheless, the group is looking to expand its services.
“When a baby dies,” Naccari said, “it deserves a dignified funeral.”
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.