Family sues Colorado funeral home where 189 decaying bodies were found over alleged fake ashes

DENVER (AP) — A family filed a lawsuit Monday against a Colorado funeral home where 189 decaying bodies were found, alleging the owners allowed the remains of their loved ones to “rot” away while they sent families fake ashes.

The gruesome discovery at Return to Nature Funeral Home occurred earlier in October after reports of an “abhorrent smell” coming from a building about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Denver.

Law enforcement officials have started identifying the remains and begun notifying families that their loved ones were among the bodies — sometimes years after they were allegedly cremated and given as ashes to grieving relatives.

The lawsuit accuses Return to Nature and its owners Jon and Carie Hallford of intentionally inflicting emotional distress, negligence, fraud and violating a number of Colorado laws among other claims.

Calls and texts sent to numbers listed for Return to Nature and owners have gone unanswered since the discovery of the decaying bodies. No arrests have been made.

“In death, these men and women deserved to be treated with respect and dignity. Instead, they were defiled," Andrew Swan, an attorney who will be representing families, said in a statement.

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that the funeral home appeared to have fabricated cremation records and may have given families fake ashes.

The man who filed the lawsuit on behalf of other families, Richard Law, sent his father's remains to Return to Nature in 2020 after Roger Law — who owned a shoe business and had an irreverent humor and quiet faith — died of COVID-19.

The funeral home claimed to cremate his father, and sent the younger Law what appeared to be ashes. Three years later, his father's body was identified in the building.

“For nearly three years, Return to Nature Funeral Home and the Hallfords allowed my father to rot along with nearly 200 others," he said.