Construction workers remodeling Ericka Karner's San Francisco home unearthed an ornate coffin containing the "perfectly preserved" body of a 3-year-old girl who died 145 years ago.
Now a nonprofit is helping Karner identify the child and lay her to rest permanently in a cemetery 10 miles away.
The construction crew made the discovery on May 9 while digging on Karner's property. When workers hit something solid, they cleared away the dirt and realized they were looking at an ornate, 3 1/2-foot coffin with glass windows set into the bronze cladding, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Inside was the incredibly well-preserved body of a 3-year-old girl in a white dress, still clutching a rose in her hand.
"All the hair was still there. The nails were there," construction worker Kevin Boylan told KTVU. "There were flowers -- roses, still on the child's body. It was a sight to see."
Karner said she was shocked, but knew she had to do something.
"On one hand, slightly creepy and sad," she said, describing her reaction to KTVU. "The next thing was ‘What do we do next?’"
City officials told the San Francisco woman they believe the young girl's body was buried in a cemetery that was closed and eventually became part of the city's Richmond District. Thousands of coffins were moved from the city to Colma, 10 miles outside of San Francisco.
They believe the girl's coffin was accidentally left behind, reports the Los Angeles Times. That troubled Karner, who said the girl's parents' grief was apparent in the care with which they buried her.
Aside from giving her some clues about the girl's origins, the city wasn't much help. They told Karner the girl's body was now her responsibility. Karner wanted to have the child re-buried, but the coroner told her she would need a death certificate to be issued a burial permit, according to the Daily Mail.
The other options were a Colma undertaker, who told Karner he'd take the girl's body for $7,000, and an East Bay archaeological company that wanted $22,000 to take the body and coffin, per the Daily Mail.
City officials eventually put Karner in touch with Elissa Davey, founder of Garden of Innocence. The nonprofit organization specializes in providing burials for unidentified children. Davey agreed with Karner's assessment that the young girl was beloved.
"Just by looking at the way they dressed her," Davey told the Mail. "Their sorrow was great. We will love her too."
The first step was moving the coffin to a mortuary in Fresno, where it will be preserved and refrigerated, Davey said.
"That girl was somebody's child," she told the Daily Mail. "We had to pick her up. If people find out she's lying at a construction site with no one around at night, you can bet somebody is going to steal her. People into the macabre. Into witchcraft."
The next step will involve some detective work to find out the girl's identity so Davey and Karner can get a burial permit. After that, they hope to bury her in Greenlawn Cemetery in Colma, where they hope her body will rest permanently.
"I don't want her disturbed anymore," Davey said. "She's been disturbed enough."