ORLANDO, Fla. — The family of Marilyn Hammock has been trying to lay her to rest since she died in 2018.

This week, they got one step closer: After repeated requests by the Orlando Sentinel, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed Hammock is one of the 10 people whose cremated ashes were found last August in the Orlando office of former guardian Rebecca Fierle.

The acknowledgement comes after months of silence from authorities, who wouldn’t tell Hammock’s relatives if hers were among the remains discovered by FDLE when agents raided 1646 Hillcrest St., a small converted house northeast of downtown Orlando that was the office for Fierle’s business, Geriatric Management.

The death of another of Fierle’s incapacitated clients, 75-year-old Steven Stryker, sparked a scandal that has embroiled Florida’s guardianship system. Stryker died at a Tampa hospital last year while staff were unable to perform life-saving measures due to a “do not resuscitate” order Fierle filed against his wishes and refused to remove.

Fierle is under criminal investigation by FDLE, but is not currently facing charges. The once-prolific guardian, who handled hundreds of cases in more than a dozen counties, has resigned. In addition to misusing DNRs, she has been accused of ignoring her wards’ wishes, double-billing and conflicts of interest.

After Hammock, 94, died in June 2018 at a Winter Springs assisted living facility, her aunt-in-law Martha Register said she insisted Fierle send the ashes to Georgia so Hammock could be buried among family members. But Register said the guardian told her she would keep the cremated remains until Hammock’s husband, who is Register’s nephew, also died.

John is now 82 years old, has dementia and is under the care of a new guardian.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger confirmed the agency is still in possession of Marilyn Hammock’s remains. The identities of the other nine people and one pet whose ashes were found in Fierle’s office have not been made public. The state’s Office of Attorney General initially told media outlets the search uncovered the remains of nine people, but Plessinger said Wednesday that 10 were found.

“I’m frustrated with the whole system, really,” said Register, 93. “They’re not forthcoming with much information. There’s nobody down there who would tell you what you want to know.”

Fierle was appointed by a judge in 2015 to care for Hammock and her husband, John Hammock, then 77, Osceola County court records show. They came under her care after a series of events typical to guardianship cases.

Noemi Rivas Bass, 56, said she met the couple in church about 12 years ago. They began a friendship after John Hammock during a service requested a prayer for his wife, who had fallen, and Rivas Bass offered to help. At the time, the couple lived in a house in St. Cloud.

“Marilyn was already showing she was maybe having some dementia issues but it was not extreme,” she said. “John was doing his best taking care of her.”

One night, the Hammocks both fell and could not get up. Police found them on the floor and took them to a hospital, Rivas Bass said.

The elderly couple ended up at the former Osceola Health Care Center, now Solaris HealthCare Osceola. On June 11, 2015, Register became their health care proxy, meaning she was authorized to make health care decisions for them if they were unable to convey their own wishes. John Hammock’s brother said he was unable to take on a similar role, according to court records.

Register said she helped raise John Hammock and his brother after their mother died. Known to his family as “Johnny Mack,” he joined the Navy and later met his wife in Florida.

The couple had no children. Although they lived in different states, Register said she was close to her nephew and his wife, and they enjoyed joking, playing games and putting puzzles together during visits.

“They were always very loving,” Register said. “We always had fun.”

Register said a lawyer for John Hammock’s brother contacted Fierle. Less than two weeks later, the guardian petitioned a judge to find the Hammocks incapacitated and appoint her their decision-maker.

“They did not deserve to land in the hands of this woman,” Rivas Bass said. “John knew who he was. … He was still in that place where he could have made a decision for himself and for her — and they took that away from him.”

After Fierle sold the couple’s home, vehicle and belongings to pay for their care and compensate herself, she moved them to Arden Courts of Winter Springs in early 2016, Seminole County court records show.

“We didn’t see eye-to-eye on stuff,” Register said regarding Fierle. “She wouldn’t tell me much.”

In 2018, Register said Fierle called her to say Marilyn Hammock had broken her hip after she fell while moving from a wheelchair to a walker.

“(Fierle) said they decided that she would probably not survive hip surgery,” Register said. “They decided they would just put her back in bed and keep her comfortable until she died.”

Marilyn Hammock died weeks later, on June 23, 2018, according to court records.

Neither Fierle nor her attorneys responded to a request for comment on her former ward’s death.

Register said she arranged to bury Hammock’s cremated remains at a cemetery near her home in Georgia. Fierle agreed to pay for the funeral expenses through the Hammocks’ estate but refused to immediately send Marilyn Hammock’s ashes to Register.

“We had already prepared the thing here on the cemetery and were waiting on the ashes when (Fierle) said she was holding them until the time of John’s death, then she would send them both to me,” Register said.

Gina Rossi-Scheiman, the executive director of the Florida State Guardianship Association, previously told the Sentinel it was “not uncommon” for guardians to temporarily keep the cremated remains of dead clients until a final resting place was found.

Register and her niece, Melody Garcia, who lives in Texas, spoke to FDLE agents shortly after they found the remains in Fierle’s office in early August. But Register and Garcia said the agency stopped short of confirming that Marilyn Hammock’s ashes were among those found and later did not return their calls requesting more information.

Plessinger said Register is not considered Marilyn Hammock’s closest living relative — her next-of-kin is her husband, whose new guardian is Denise Willis.

“FDLE is working with Ms. Hammock’s next of kin’s guardian,” Plessinger said in an email. “Ms. Willis wouldn’t accept the remains without a court order. So we are working to obtain that now.”

Register and Garcia said they were relieved to know that Marilyn Hammock’s remains are safe but still feel frustrated that they haven’t been able to lay her to rest.

“It hurts me because it’s hurting my aunt,” said Garcia, 59. “She raised those kids most of their lives and was very close to them. … They’re just discarding these people like they’re trash, like they don’t have to answer to anybody or have accountability for their actions.”

Both women said they have tried to contact several people involved with John Hammock’s guardianship case in the months since Fierle resigned, including Willis, but no one has called them.

“I mean, I’m very happy they found out that Marilyn was one of the (recovered remains), but what’s the next step when you can’t get in touch with the guardian?” Garcia asked.

On a recent visit to see John Hammock, Rivas Bass said she saw a bruise on his head. Register said the facility’s staff told her he fell after trying to get out of his wheelchair. Register is anxious because, at 93, she can’t travel to see her nephew, having recently been hospitalized herself.

“That’s what started Marilyn’s death — a fall out of the wheelchair,” Register said. “I don’t want the same thing happening to him.”

Willis, who was appointed to the case in August, told the Sentinel she has not received messages from John Hammock’s family. She said she tried to contact Register once, weeks ago, but the person who answered the phone told her Register was in the hospital.

The guardian said she could not comment on her client’s health. Willis added she was contacted by an investigator because a container of ashes found in Fierle’s office had the name “Hammock” on it, but she said she never received the ashes.

“I don’t know anything about the status of that or what they’re doing with those,” she said.

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John Hammock can’t speak much anymore, Rivas Bass said, but, sometimes during their visits, he tells her he misses his wife. She would like Marilyn Hammock to finally have a memorial service at their church a year and a half after her death.

“For crying out loud, she’s a human being,” Rivas Bass said. “She was loved by not only me but other people. … There’s no reason why these things should happen when we live in a country that’s supposed to be the best country in the world.”

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