COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- At least 189 decomposing bodies have been removed from a Colorado funeral home, much higher than initial reports suggested when the story surfaced earlier this month, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
The Return to Nature Funeral Home based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, offers environmentally friendly burials but came under investigation after more than 115 human remains were found being improperly stored on the property, according to a statement from the Fremont County Sheriff's Office from earlier this month.
Responding to a suspicious incident, authorities found around 115 decomposing bodies stored inside a space of about 2,500 square feet. The bodies were in such bad condition that they will need to be identified through DNA, officials said.
However, a statement issued on Tuesday by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation on behalf of Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper and Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller confirmed the body count to be much higher than originally thought.
"On October 13, 2023, all decedents were removed from the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose. The effort was coordinated by the Fremont County Coroner's Office with support from several entities," the CBI said. "Teams removed at least 189 individuals and transported them to the El Paso County Coroner's Office. The total number of decedents could change as the identification and investigative processes continue."
Families will be notified once bodies can be identified, but the 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 earlier this month.
The scene was so bad when authorities first arrived that a paramedic who responded developed a rash and had to be medically evaluated, Cooper said.
"We are conducting extensive coordination efforts as we focus on the identification of the decedents and provide notifications to ensure the families are given accurate information to prevent further victimization as they continue to grieve their loved ones," Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller 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."
Officials said they are now beginning the second phase of their investigation on Tuesday.
"The second phase of this comprehensive process includes confirming identification and completing family notifications," the CBI said. "Family notifications will be conducted by a team led by the Fremont County Coroner's Office, victim advocates and others and this is expected to begin in the next several days."
There is currently no timeline for completion of the investigation.