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Demolition set for Return to Nature Funeral Home in Colorado months after 190 "improperly stored" bodies found

Families prepare for demolition of Return to Nature Funeral Home
Families prepare for demolition of Return to Nature Funeral Home 00:55

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will demolish the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose next week. Demolition will begin on April 16 and will take an estimated week to 10 days to complete. 

The Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose  CBS

It was last fall when 190 improperly stored bodies were discovered inside the Return to Nature Funeral Home. The investigation into the funeral home began in early October 2023 when neighbors reported a foul smell to law enforcement. 

All decedents were removed from the funeral home on Oct. 13, 2023 and transported to the El Paso County Coroner's Office. In February, Gov. Jared Polis issued a second Executive Order to provide an additional $220,000 for DNA testing related to the funeral home investigation. Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said this week that 18 bodies have yet to be identified

"My goal is to identify every loved one from this facility, this process will still take months and we ask that everyone still be patient," said Keller.

Keller said that a ceremony has been organized for 9 a.m. on April 16 at the site before demolition begins, "The ceremony hopefully marks a day of closure and continued healing for all the victims associated with this horrific event."

Jon and Carie Hallford Wagoner County Sheriff

Carie Hallford and her husband Jon own the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose. They've been charged with 190 counts of abuse of a corpse and 70 other charges including theft, forgery and money laundering -- all felonies. Carie Hallford was released from the El Paso County Jail in February on a $100,000 bond after a judge lowered her bond from $2 million. Jon Hallford was released on bond in late January after a judge lowered his bond from $2 million to $100,000. The couple was arrested in Oklahoma in November 2023.

Family members of people whose remains have been identified at Return to Nature have called for accountability and changes ranging from increased regulation on the funeral home industry to criminal prosecution -- which is ongoing -- to the destruction of the site.

The EPA has delayed the demolition twice; the first one was due to weather and the second was due to challenges with locating suitable landfill facilities for the building materials.

The EPA posted this notice on its website: 

Update 3-28-2024:

EPA crews and contractors will begin mobilization to the Site on April 15, 2024, (weather permitting) to receive equipment and materials for the demolition. Demolition will begin late morning April 16, 2024.

To prepare the Site for demolition, EPA's contractors will conduct rodent control the week of April 8, 2024, and on April 15, 2024, will spray a disinfectant and odor suppressant into the interior of the building. Staging areas for loading trucks with demolition materials will be located next to the building.

Following the assessment, EPA has determined that demolition of the building is necessary to safely remove all residual medical and biological materials found in the building. The cleanup will be conducted under the direction of EPA's Emergency Response personnel and its trained hazardous materials contractors. To initiate this cleanup, EPA is drafting a workplan and anticipate our contractors and their crews will begin mobilization to the site around  (date to be determined). We expect the demolition to take approximately 10 days, weather permitting.

In order to prepare the site for demolition, EPA will continue to work with Fremont County, CDPHE, and the local utility companies to ensure safety control measures are established at the site. Prior to and during demolition, EPA's contractors will spray a disinfectant and odor suppressant into the interior of the building. Staging areas for loading trucks with demolition materials will be located next to the building.

Once demolition begins, excavators will start to break up the building from the top down and remove large pieces of the structure, while working to keep it within the foundation footprint. During this process, EPA will use water and other liquid solutions for dust suppression, but not in quantities that would cause runoff of contamination from the interior of the building to the ground surface outside.

Ground crews will manage demolition materials to ensure the loading process into the dump trucks is efficient and protective. These materials will be prepared and loaded into trucks in accordance with applicable regulations and landfill requirements. Once the building and concrete foundation slab have been removed, EPA will conduct a shallow surface scrape of soils on the footprint of the building. The soils will be transported to the landfill through the same process as the building materials.

In the coming weeks, EPA will continue to update local officials and stakeholders about final plans. All updates will also be posted on our website:

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