SC coroner missing decades of records, doesn’t know where bodies were kept
KINGSTREE, S.C. (WCSC) - Williamsburg County officials say that decades worth of death records are missing, prompting some to question whether such documents were even kept.
“I can tell you where the records are from Jan. 1, 2021, but I have no idea where the records are prior to that,” Williamsburg County Coroner Ivori Henryhand said.
Henryhand was sworn in as Williamsburg County’s new coroner at the beginning of 2021. Her predecessor, Harrison McKnight, served as coroner for more than 40 years, but decided not to run for reelection. Henryhand defeated McKnight’s deputy coroner in the 2020 election.
“I personally reached out to the coroner when I won the election,” Henryhand said. “About a few days after the election, the response from that coroner was, ‘You have the knowledge, so you can figure it out.’”
Henryhand says that not much was waiting for her when she showed up for her first day of work.
“There was no office,” Henryhand said. “I had to create an office because there was no office. I don’t know what circumstances the previous coroner had with how he set his office up.”
Henryhand added that when her term began, she was not left with coolers to store corpses. She says she has “no clue” where McKnight was keeping bodies when he served as coroner.
The Williamsburg County Sheriff’s Office has given Henryhand a temporary place to work in Kingstree, but she says she has not had any luck finding the vital death records from previous years and cannot provide them to those who submit requests.
”You never know who may need a document,” Henryhand said. “Family members always come back needing documents.”
Sabrina Gast serves as the president of the South Carolina Coroners Association and is also the coroner of York County. Gast says that she has never met McKnight and does not know what sort of death records he maintained, but that such records are “very important.”
“Every coroner does things a little differently,” Gast said. “[Records] should be handed over from one coroner to the other, because Ms. Henryhand would not have access to any previous death prior to January, so if law enforcement needs that information or families are needing that information and she doesn’t have access to that, it makes it very difficult for her.”
Williamsburg County Supervisor Dr. Tiffany Wright says that she “always respected” McKnight and was “a little surprised” that Henryhand was not given the records, but since coroners are elected, there is nothing county officials can do at the moment.
“I’m hopeful our previous coroner did do his due diligence in keeping up with the records and it’s just a matter of a mistake that was made,” Wright said. “But obviously if it’s not, then our current coroner, Ms. Henryhand, will have to take whatever action she has to take.”
McKnight declined an on-camera interview, but said over the phone on July 5 that he had some records and would reach out to Henryhand later that day.
Henryhand says that McKnight subsequently called her, but she says he has not yet turned over any documents. She noted that she has no animosity toward him but needs access to the death records from his time as coroner.
“They belong to the coroner’s office,” Henryhand said. “They’re not anyone’s personal belongings. They belong to the office.”
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