(RestoreAmericanGlory.com) – A Colorado-based eco-friendly funeral service is facing severe scrutiny after the discovery of 189 decomposing bodies on its property.
Initially, investigators believed there were 115 bodies at the Return to Nature Funeral Home’s storage site in Penrose, Colorado, due to the overwhelming odor emanating from it. However, the count has since risen to 189, with the possibility of further increases as identification efforts proceed.
Promoting environmentally conscious burials, Return to Nature avoids the use of chemicals typically involved in the embalming process. Despite the ongoing investigation, there have been no charges or arrests at the moment. Attempts to reach out to the funeral home for their side of the story have been made through Instagram.
The task of identifying the deteriorating remains has been assigned to an FBI unit accustomed to handling large-scale fatalities, like plane crash incidents. Approximately 120 families are anxiously awaiting confirmation, fearing their loved ones might be among those discovered. The identification process, involving fingerprint, dental, and DNA analysis, is expected to take several weeks.
While forgoing embalming is legal in Colorado and many other states, the law mandates that bodies must be preserved through refrigeration. Specifically, within 24 hours of receiving a body, funeral establishments are required to embalm, refrigerate, cremate, bury, or entomb it. Non-compliance with these regulations constitutes a class 1 misdemeanor in Colorado, punishable by a maximum of 364 days in jail, a fine up to $1,000, or both.
Apart from potential criminal charges, the families of the deceased could pursue legal action against the funeral home for “interference with the right of sepulcher,” according to Tanya D. Marsh, a law professor at Wake Forest University and licensed funeral director.
Despite these stringent regulations, Colorado’s oversight of funeral homes is relatively relaxed, lacking consistent inspections and specific qualifications for operation.
The reason behind the funeral home’s failure to maintain the bodies under appropriate conditions remains uncertain. Nevertheless, the financial troubles plaguing Return to Nature’s owners, including missed tax payments, unpaid bill lawsuits, and a recent eviction from a property, might offer some context.
Marsh cites previous instances, like the 2002 Tri-State Crematory case in Georgia, where over 300 uncremated bodies were discovered in varying decay stages, and the mishandling of remains in New York City during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She emphasizes that the current situation in Colorado doesn’t stem from the home’s eco-friendly approach but rather from its gross negligence in respecting fundamental human remains’ care protocols.
Eco-conscious funeral practices typically avoid embalming to prevent harmful chemicals from contaminating the soil, opting instead for more sustainable coffins. However, in the absence of embalming, proper refrigeration is critical to slowing down the decomposition process, which begins immediately post-mortem and can rapidly progress under certain environmental conditions.
This incident has prompted concerns about the potential negative impact on public perceptions of both the funeral service industry and eco-friendly funeral options. There’s a significant breach of trust, which casts a shadow of doubt over the entire profession, explained Mark T. Evely, director of the Mortuary Science Program at Wayne State University, Michigan.
The situation underscores the importance of having safeguards in place for funeral services, especially when they face financial difficulties or operational failures, as emphasized by Kate Woodthorpe, director of the U.K. Centre for Death and Society.
As the identification of the remains continues, affected families grapple with the possibility that their relatives could be among those mistreated. Dr. John Wilson, director of bereavement services counseling at York St John University in northern England, acknowledges the complex emotional turmoil these families are experiencing, including guilt, trauma, and anger, potentially necessitating professional counseling support.
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