COLUMBIA, S.C. — They were either unknown or unclaimed, but today 17 people found a final home in a Richland County cemetery.

Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said the county began holding burial services about 20 years ago, when Watts came into office. The department performs services three or four times a year for those who passed and were left without a family.

"Legally, we're responsible for those individuals," he said, "but more importantly, morally I think it's the right thing to do. These people, a lot of them were from a bad situation or whatever, but most of them are down on their luck to some degree. And I just felt like my personal feeling is -- regardless where they were in life -- they deserve the dignity and respect of a proper burial."

Watts says he reaches out to friends and coworkers of the deceased.

"Yesterday we had quite a few friends show up and so we want to try and make it as personal as possible and not just some...you know...bury them. We try to make it the service meaningful to not only those that we've taken care of, but to those that knew them."

The department cremates the bodies, which is the most cost-effective way to handle the remains.

Watts says that he is honored to offer a final resting place for those who might otherwise been forgotten.