115 bodies found improperly stored at Colorado funeral home

Police did not disclose what the funeral home was doing with the human remains.

ByJon Haworth ABCNews logo
Friday, October 6, 2023
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A funeral home offering environmentally friendly burials is under investigation after more than 115 human remains were found being improperly stored on the property, according to authorities.

Deputies from the Fremont County Sheriff's Office in Colorado were dispatched to the Return to Nature Funeral Home based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Tuesday in reference to a suspicious incident, the Fremont County Sheriff's Office said in a press release on Thursday.

The Fremont County Sheriff's Office found around 115 decomposing bodies stored inside a space of about 2,500 square feet. The bodies are in such bad shape that they will need to be identified through DNA, the sheriff's office said Friday.

"During the last 48 hours, my office made a very disturbing discovery in the town of Penrose, Colorado," Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper said at a press conference Friday. "There have been a lot of questions and concerns expressed by the community, especially those families who entrusted their loved ones to this funeral home."

"Upon their arrival deputies learned that the building was owned by the Return to Nature Funeral Home based in Colorado Springs Colorado," police said. "On October 4, 2023, FCSO investigators, the Fremont County Coroner's Office, and the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies executed a search warrant on the property and determined that human remains were improperly stored inside the building."

Families will be notified once bodies can be identified. DNA testing could take months, according to local officials.

"Without providing too much detail to avoid further victimizing these families, the area of the funeral home where the bodies were improperly stored was horrific," Cooper said.

The scene was so bad that a paramedic who first responded developed a rash and had to be medically evaluated, Cooper said.

Authorities did not disclose what the funeral home was doing with the human remains but did confirm that they are working with the Fremont County Coroners' Office, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the FBI on the case.

"Green Burial is a natural way of caring for your loved one with minimal environmental impact. Green Burial aids in the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions and the preservation of habitat, WITHOUT the use of harsh embalming chemicals, metallic, plastic or unnatural items," the website for the funeral home says. "You can still view your loved one who is NOT embalmed. Embalming is NOT a law. In the state of Colorado within 24 hours the body must be either embalmed or placed in a regulated temperature controlled environment, meaning under refrigeration, dry ice, etc."

The Fremont County Sheriff's Office is asking that family members of decedents who utilized the Return to Nature Funeral Home please send an email to 23-1941@fremontso.com.

"We're committed to supporting the families throughout this process with a comprehensive investigation along with our victims' advocates," Cooper said.

The sheriff's office said it wasn't clear if a crime had been committed and no one has been arrested. The owners of the funeral home are being cooperative and an investigation is ongoing.

A disaster declaration has been made by the governor and local officials have declared an emergency.