PORTLAND – A family in mourning had to deal with the theft of their loved one’s ashes in Portland Monday, just before the special ceremony to celebrate his life.
“Baja Bill" Banta was a man with many stories. He died unexpectedly in June, leaving behind three children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. After he died, four generations of his family came to Portland to celebrate his life and memory.
But that’s when the story of “Baja” Bill Banta took a hurtful twist.
Banta’s ashes, placed in five containers for his family, were tucked away in a backpack with photos and other memories that were to be part of his celebration of life. But the backpack was stolen out of a Chinook camper parked in Northeast Portland.
“We came down here to gather together to spread the ashes among family members and they were in a backpack in the camper here where my brother was asleep,” said Banta’s daughter, Shelly Michael. “They were stolen.”
The camper was parked along Northeast 10th Street and Thompson, right in front of the house the family had rented for the celebration.
“They must've reached up from here,” Shelley said, as she pointed to the camper, “and grabbed it from here.”
Five containers, full of Baja Bill’s ashes were stolen and family members think it likely happened around 4 a.m.
Banta’s son Marty was asleep in the back of the camper with the backpack and was awaken when he heard the door open and slam. He thought it was one of his family members and said the thought of someone stealing the ashes didn’t even cross his mind.
“I went back to sleep and then got up this morning and they were all asking, ‘Where's dad?’ So I came out to get dad and he wasn't in the Chinook,” Marty said.
He added that the area was busy, with a lot of people outside.
“There was a lot of movement last night, you know, from 12 a.m. to 4 a.m. I could hear the partying and stuff going on but I didn't think anything of it,” he recalled.
Shelley posted a plea on Craigslist, asking anyone who’s seen the backpack to return it, no questions asked.
Instead of anger and frustration at the loss of their dad’s ashes, Baja Bill’s kids were still celebrating his life, his memory and the fact that they have been able to come together in his memory.
“It's love,” Shelley said, “It's bigger than just the ashes. We'd like to have it to share, but if we don't, we still have the love. You know, it's all what it is.”