(The Epoch Times)—A funeral home offering “green” burials in southern Colorado is under investigation after more than 115 decaying bodies were found improperly stored at the facility, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Department said Friday.
Residents contacted local authorities about foul odors coming from a building owned by Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, which prompted the investigation. Local resident Joyce Pavetti, 73, said she caught whiffs of a putrid smell over the last few weeks.
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“We just assumed it was a dead animal,” she said.
When officials entered the 2,500-square-foot building, they found bodies improperly stored but declined to describe what it was like inside the facility.
Fremont County coroner Randy Keller said the facility is now a “hazardous scene,” KKTV reported. Mr. Keller also said that authorities were in the process of removing the bodies from the facility.
“This is going to be a very, very lengthy process,” Mr. Keller said. “The loved ones at this facility will be treated with the utmost care and respect.”
The funeral home performed burials without embalming chemicals or metal caskets, using biodegradable caskets, shrouds, or “nothing at all,” according to its website. The company charged $1,895 for a “natural burial,” not counting a casket or cemetery space, and until July offered cremations, too.
Funeral home officials were cooperating as investigators sought to determine any criminal wrongdoing, Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper said at a news conference. No one has been arrested or charged yet.
“Without providing too much detail to avoid further victimizing these families there, the funeral home where the bodies were improperly stored was horrific,” the sheriff said.
Identification Efforts May Take Months
Some identifications would require taking fingerprints, finding medical or dental records and DNA, Mr. Keller said.
“This could take several months. As we identify each decedent, families will be notified as soon as absolutely possible,” he said.
The owner is accused of trying to conceal the improper storage of corpses, claiming he was doing taxidermy at the facility, according to a suspension letter sent to him by Colorado state regulators. The facility had been unregistered for about 10 months after the owner “let it expire” in November.
A disaster declaration has been made by the governor, and local officials have declared an emergency. The FBI is supporting the investigation.
Under Colorado law, green burials are legal, but state code requires that any body not buried within 24 hours must be properly refrigerated.
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The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office is asking that family members of decedents who utilized the Return to Nature Funeral Home to send email to [email protected].
“Please leave the best contact number and time to call in this email. We will respond to each email. If you do not use email, then you can contact the Fremont Emergency Management call line at (719)-276-7421. We will have victims’ assistance personnel responding to messages beginning October 6, 2023, between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm. We will also have victim assistance personnel available at 1901 East Main, Canon City CO, between 10 am and 6 pm,” the news release stated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.