FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Bethany Wagner knew three children were on their way.

The twin 6-year-old boys and their 9-year-old sister were boarding a school bus when they were struck and killed by a woman in a truck who ignored the stop arm. Wagner, the senior forensic autopsy technician for the Fort Wayne-based Forensic Pathology Consultants, quickly received word of that January 2018 crash in Fulton County and also that her company would be handling the autopsies.

The next morning, before those autopsies were set to begin, she knew she needed to do something more.

“I just can’t imagine,” Wagner said. “There was nothing I could even understand except wanting to be with my own children if anything happened and I couldn’t. So I wanted to do something to show that somebody was still there with those children even when their parents couldn’t be.”

She went to a local shop and purchased two blue blankets and one pink blanket. After performing the autopsies, she covered the children in those blankets – a symbol that they were not alone in a morgue but that someone was still there with them.

Thus began an ongoing tradition, where Wagner and fellow forensic autopsy technician Tabitha Cordes cover children that come through their autopsy room with a special blanket, one last thing they can do for a child to show that someone is still caring for them.

Autopsy techs Bethany Wagner, left, and Tabitha Cordes, right, use blankets donated by the community to cover children after death, as one last symbol that someone is with them.

It has led to donations of hundreds of blankets from local charities, schools, fire and police departments and even strangers throughout Northeast Indiana who’ve heard about the practice. Some have even contacted Wagner and Cordes and asked to meet in parking lots with loads of blankets in tow.

In recent weeks, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeast Indiana gave Wagner and Cordes their latest batch of blankets.

“It’s been amazing,” Wagner said.

Forensic Pathology Consultants provide autopsy services for several hospitals throughout Northeast Indiana as well as for private citizens. The company, headed by Dr. Scott Wagner, also performs autopsies for the Allen County Coroner.

Bethany Wagner and Cordes have seen children who’ve been hit in the head and stabbed in the neck or bruised over their entire bodies come to them. They’ve handled children who’ve overdosed on fentanyl or died from neglect or in other ways that’s difficult to imagine, let alone talk about.

“Sometimes we get up to five or six kids a month,” Wagner said. “Sometimes it’s double that, sometimes it’s less than that. It happens in rushes.”

And none of it is easy.

For Cordes, who said she has lost two children of her own, covering a child one last time with a blanket provides her with a cathartic experience. The autopsy of a child may be difficult, but that moment where she puts the blanket over him or her, whether it be a fluffy one with frills or one with a cartoon imprinted on it, provides a feeling that they did everything they could for that child.

“It’s amazing for me,” Cordes said. “Because I feel like we did that extra step to show that someone is still here loving them.”

“It makes it a lot easier for me,” she continued.

Afterward, the families of the children are given the blankets to do with what they want. Some people will wrap their children in them prior to their funeral or burial. Some, like the family of the twin boys and their sister killed while boarding the bus in Fulton County, have made memorials out of the blankets.

Those blankets now adorn that family’s home.

And Cordes and Wagner have no plans to stop the tradition.

They’ve gone from buying blankets here and there to asking people to donate blankets, anything they had, which they would then wash and clean up to today, when it seems they are becoming flush with them as news of what they’ve been doing has spread.

“It’s hard, but it’s comforting to know that we care, and that somebody is still taking care and we know that child is being treated as one of our own, even though the circumstances might not be ideal,” Wagner said.