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How It Took 19 Years to Find the Body of a Mother Who Went Missing During Hurricane Katrina


If you were far away and watched the damage from Hurricane Katrina, one heartbreaking news story could have shown how bad things were.

After the huge flood in Biloxi, Mississippi, was over, a reporter from Gulf Coast TV station WKRG stopped Hardy Jackson as he walked down the street.

He couldn’t find the body of his 46-year-old wife.

He told the nearby CNN station, “She’s gone.”

When Katrina hit in August 2005, Hardy and Tonette Jackson were at home. He said that they didn’t think the water would rise so fast. Their house fell apart as they moved to the attic.

Hardy grabbed a tree and Tonette’s hand at the same time. He went on, “But after a while, she realized he couldn’t hold on much longer.” Taking care of their kids and grandkids was the last thing Tonette asked him to do.

They let go.

Soon after, Hardy was in Biloxi with two boys. They looked around at the damage from the storm and said, “We ain’t got nowhere to go, nowhere to go.” I’m not finding my way. That was all I had. “That was all I had.”

After a week, searchers found a body in St. Martin, inland from Biloxi, between two slabs that used to be houses. Officials in Mississippi say that because the bodies could not be recognized, they were buried at Machpelah Cemetery in nearby Pascagoula with the name Jane (Love).

At the same time, the Jackson family couldn’t find their mother. Tonette was one of 12,000 people reported missing in Louisiana and Mississippi after one of the strongest storms in US history, which killed 1,392 people and caused $125 billion in damage.

Hardy kept his word to take care of the kids and grandchildren for the next five years. He and his family still couldn’t bury Tonette the right way, though.

“They say the body of my wife washed up in the bay.” “I can’t do anything,” Hardy told CNN in 2010. “When I woke up, I wished it was a dream many times.”

And Hardy died in 2013. His family was still no closer to finding Tonette than they were when the storm blew away from the shore.

Over the next ten years, DNA technology made a lot of progress, which led to new leads in famous unexplained crimes and cases involving missing people. These things were seen by the Bureau of Investigations and the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Mississippi.

According to the story used by the bureau, a task team of those agencies tried again in 2023 to find the name of the unnamed Katrina victim who was found between those two slabs north of Biloxi.

A news release from the company says that the body of Jane (Love) was dug up and sent to Othram, a Texas-based business that used forensic genetic genealogy (a mix of DNA analysis and traditional family tree research) to find leads for the state Investigations Bureau.

Special Agent Christa Groom of the FBI told CNN that Othram had helped Mississippi police look into other cases. Carla Davis, a philanthropist and genealogist at Othram, gave the money because she was “committed to resolving the backlog of cold cases” in the state, the company said.

Tonette Jackson’s “additional DNA testing of a close family member” and Othram’s leads helped find a match for Jane (Love):

The news statement says that after almost 19 years, science proved that the body parts found in St. Martin a week after Katrina belonged to Tonette.

At last, her family could get her body back. The case of adding one more name to the list of names carved into the granite monument in Mississippi for those killed by Katrina could be closed.

The special agent Davis said, “It shouldn’t have taken this long, but here we are.” She also said, “I’m just glad to give them some closure.”

“It makes me feel good to know that you helped them feel better because they had to wait a long time for this.”

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