Frank Collins

The Rev. Frank Collins

When family members receive the grim news that a loved one has been killed in West Baton Rouge Parish, the Rev. Frank Collins is often the first official they encounter to help them through the trauma.

He meets grieving families and sexual assault victims to guide them through the pain a sometimes lengthy and complicated death investigation. He says it’s his calling.

“People are hurting, they’re bereaved. I try to give them as much comfort as I can,” said Collins, 60. “My job is there to comfort no matter the situation.”

He's the first chaplain assigned to the West Baton Rouge Coroner's Office.

The title of chaplain traditionally is held by a person of faith working in agencies like hospitals, fire departments and law enforcement agencies.

It's a 24-hour role that requires Collins to respond at any given moment and he does it as an unpaid volunteer. He keeps his badge and other credentials in his pocket nearly at all times in case he needs to respond to any number of tragic events.

The West Baton Rouge Coroner’s Office handles roughly 150 deaths each year ranging from a handful of homicides and fatal crashes, as well as unnatural deaths, such as suicide and overdoses. The agency also responds to sexual assault cases.

Navigating a death investigation is often complicated and the immediate grief for the families can be paralyzing, especially when authorities don't have all the answers surrounding a loved one's death, Collins said.

Often the first question the families have for Collins is when they can see their loved one. But in the moment, it's a difficult process for some to understand because of the shock.

"That's very frustrating to the family," he said. "I'm never in a hurry when I go to a family's home. They have questions and sometimes they want to talk."

Following the fatal shooting of Larry Profit, 61, a local activist found dead in front of his Port Allen home on Nov. 14, Collins was among the first to respond to the scene to offer support for family and friends gathered near the home.

A few years ago, he was called after a couple was in a car wreck on Interstate 10 in the middle of the night that killed the husband and stranded his wife in an unfamiliar town.

Collins has been a minister since an early age, preaching in the school bathroom and then later opening two churches — Greater Little Zion Baptist in Plaquemine and First Bethlehem Baptist in Arnaudville. He funds the operation by selling candy, pork skin and fried turkey legs on the roadside.

Collins said his years of practice as a minister gave him the experience to approach tense and highly emotional situations without judgment.

"When people have a tragedy take place, they're just lost. Having someone like (Collins) gives them a person to turn to," said West Baton Rouge Chief Deputy Coroner Yancy Guerin. "It helps a lot."

Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com.