Investigators removed 189 sets of human remains from a Colorado funeral home offering “green burials” where law enforcement officials said bodies had been “improperly stored,” according to the local sheriff’s department.
The remains were found in the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, about 30 miles south of Colorado Springs, and transported to the El Paso County coroner’s office, according to a joint news release Tuesday from Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper and Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller.
The total number of bodies could change “as the identification and investigative processes continue,” the statement said.
After receiving a report of an odor coming from the funeral home, the sheriff’s office obtained a warrant to search the building and initially found more than 115 bodies that had been improperly stored and were creating a “hazardous scene,” Keller said during a news conference Friday.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the FBI are assisting the sheriff’s office with the investigation, which officials said could take months. No arrests have been made.
“It is not clear if a crime has been committed,” FBI Public Affairs Specialist Vikki Migoya said.
The county sheriff described the scene as “horrific.” Authorities searched an area of more than 2,500 square feet, Cooper said.
Keller declined to go into further detail on how the bodies had been stored. Keller said it is not yet clear whether the bodies had been intended for burial or cremation. The coroner’s office is still working to identify all of the bodies and notify families.
“This is going to be a very, very lengthy process,” Keller said. “With the number of decedents we have in this facility and the identification process that needs to be completed, this could take several months.”
He said the coroner’s office is focusing on identification and notifying the families to ensure they “are given accurate information to prevent further victimization as they continue to grieve their loved ones.”
A family crisis center and phone line have also been established.
According to Return to Nature Funeral Home’s website, the funeral home offers “green burials” without embalming fluid in a biodegradable casket or “nothing at all.” The company also operates a facility in Colorado Springs, according to the website. The funeral home previously offered cremation services but stopped in July 2023, the website states.
CNN has reached out to the Return to Nature Funeral Home for comment.
Investigators have made contact with the owners of the funeral home, and they are cooperating so far, Cooper said.
Gov. Jared Polis issued a local disaster emergency, which makes state resources available, Keller said.