SHELBYVILLE — Nearly four months after her death, the family of a Salvadoran immigrant who hanged herself from her jail bunk bed as she waited for deportation said their final goodbyes.
The service had been delayed because of a series of investigations surrounding Ana Romero Rivera's August death.
Romero, 44, was remembered Wednesday in a traditional Catholic funeral Mass in Spanish attended by 40 people at Church of the Annunciation.
During the service, there was no mention of the way Romero died in the Franklin County Regional Jail.
But at a news conference after the funeral, Romero's brother-in-law said the case was still a "mystery" to him even though officials closed the case Tuesday and found no wrongdoing on the part of the jail.
Franklin County Coroner Will Harrod, who is in charge of the death investigation, said he met Tuesday with Franklin Commonwealth's Attorney Larry Cleveland and Kentucky State Police Detective Brian Stafford to review the case.
"There's nothing that the jail has failed to do," Harrod said.
Mario Aguilar, a Shelby ville restaurant owner, says the family will continue to investigate his sister-in-law's death.
Romero's case had become a rallying point for many in Central Kentucky who advocate for immigration reform. About 150 people attended a vigil for her last month outside the jail.
According to federal regulations, Romero should have been held in the Franklin County jail for only 48 hours for immigration officials to pick her up or release her from custody. Instead she was held for nearly two more weeks.
As a result of Romero's death, Cleveland said Tuesday, he is recommending that the jail increase and improve communications with immigration officials so those awaiting deportation are picked up in a timely manner.
"I would recommend to the jail that they have Immigration come and get them when they are supposed to," Cleveland said.
Romero, who agreed to be deported after she pleaded guilty to possession of a false ID card, was found late Aug. 21 hanging by a sheet from a top bunk in her cell at the Franklin County jail, Cleveland said. She was pronounced dead early the next day at a Frankfort hospital. The state medical examiner's final autopsy report said that she hanged herself and died of asphyxiation.
Harrod and Cleveland said the investigation showed that the jail had arranged for a mental health evaluation for Romero because she had stopped eating. The evaluation determined that she was at low risk of harming herself.
Cleveland said jail officials checked on Romero at least once each hour in the days leading up to her death.
Franklin County Jailer Billy Roberts was not in his office Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. Roberts has previously declined to comment.
Harrod said he and state police officials consider the case closed.
Cleveland said that, although he is in agreement about the case with Harrod and state police, he has also asked Franklin County Attorney Rick Sparks to review the investigation and plans to talk with Sparks later in the week.
Freddy Peralta, president of the Kentucky Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee and Rights and an organizer behind the Justice for Ana Romero campaign, said he and a legal team hope to meet soon with the coroner and commonwealth's attorney to discuss their findings.
"We're going to explore all the different options and, of course, we need to hear what they have to say," Peralta said.
Romero's family has retained a lawyer and is proceeding with a private investigation.
"There may not be any criminal charges, but clearly there were some civil violations of Ana's rights," said Peralta. "They kept her there (longer) than was allowed by law. If she had been released as the law said, probably we would not be here at this particular moment."
In other states, more than 70 people scheduled for deportation have died in custody in recent years.
Congress has demanded that more information be made public about the dozens of deaths in other jails and prisons among those awaiting deportation.
Officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshal's office disagree on who had federal oversight of Romero's case when she died.
Despite the conclusion of the coroner and prosecutor investigations, several questions remain, both Peralta and Aguilar said.
"We want to know who approved the anti-depressant she was taking," Aguilar, Romero's brother-in-law, said Tuesday. "We want to see exactly what happened in the 24 to 48 hours before she died."
Romero will be cremated. Her remains will be taken to El Salvador at a later date.