Fayetteville, N.C. — After more than a year in the care of strangers, Carol Ann Rickert's remains are headed home to Pennsylvania.
A funeral urn containing Rickert's ashes was found inside a portable storage unit in Harnett County by a local man last year, said Fayetteville real estate agent Linda Bulla, who handles the rental property where the man lived.
"(He) brought them in the house, knowing nothing else to do with them," Bulla said.
The tenant moved out in April and turned Rickert's urn over to Bulla for safekeeping. She checked with area funeral homes and Facebook but couldn't locate Rickert's family.
After WRAL News aired the story last month of the urn and a painting that ended up in Bulla's care after the April 16 tornadoes, Susan Fisher of Sanford, a genealogist, searched the Social Security Death Index to determine that Rickert last lived in Shamokin, Pa.
"She called the funeral home up there, who knows the family," Bulla said.
Bulla called one of Rickert's sons, and he immediately recognized the funeral urn when he watched a video of the story on WRAL.com.
"Everybody was ecstatic because we weren't aware anything was wrong," the son, David Long, said Wednesday.
Long said that his sister, whose husband is in the Army, had been in possession of the urn since their mother died in 1992 of breast cancer. The couple, who moved from Fort Bragg about 14 months ago, has been out of touch with the rest of the family for a while, Long said.
Another sibling has the remains of Long's father, who died four years ago.
"They're going to reunite," he said. "Mom and my dad, they're going to be back."
Bulla shipped the urn to Pennsylvania on Wednesday, along with a cross and a necklace that one of her colleagues put into the package.
"I probably will (miss her) because I'm so used to having her around," Bulla said. "But I want her to be home."
She still is searching for the owner of the oil painting of a country cottage, which a man on Fraser Drive found in his yard after the tornadoes. The painting is in a gold frame and bears a signature that looks like "HESZ" and a 1995 date.