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Families calling for changes in Colorado laws as they learn loved ones are among Penrose bodies

Families calling for changes in laws as they learn loved ones are among Penrose bodies
Families calling for changes in laws as they learn loved ones are among Penrose bodies 03:01

Investigators have begun confirming the identities of remains found in Colorado in a Return to Nature funeral home facility, bringing home the realization for loved ones that their family members were among those discovered in the town of Penrose in early October. The job of identifying the remains is substantial, with at least 189 bodies being recovered from the building. 

"This was the best thing that could have happened in a situation like this, as horrible as it is," said Tanya Wilson, the daughter of 76-year-old Yong Anderson. Anderson died in Colorado Springs in June and the family hired the Return to Nature Funeral Home there to handle arrangements to have her remains cremated. 

The family says it never received a cremation tag or a certificate with the bag they received from Return to Nature and later spread off Hawaii

It has left the family frustrated and pledging to push for changes in Colorado law for new regulation of the funeral industry. 

"We're not trained professionals. We're not in the funeral industry. How are we supposed to know what right looks like?" said Wilson about the bag they received.  


RELATED: Family learning loved one's remains may have been among 189 improperly stored bodies at Colorado funeral home decries "betrayal of trust"

"We've been considering what new legislation in this area for a long time now," said State Sen. Dylan Roberts a Democrat of Colorado's 8th District from Frisco. Roberts worked with republican representative Matt Soper of Delta and Mesa Counties on legislation in the past and says there is support again for new regulation of an industry that has little, relative to other states.

"We can't keep having these tragedies. It doesn't seem to happen in the 49 other states," said Roberts. "I think we're zeroing in on the reason why." 

Roberts had been looking at developing legislation for the next session in January back in the summer, before the discovery in Penrose. 

"We're going to have to work hard to secure the funding that will take to create a licensing program and then implement it throughout the years. But this is what I think state government is for. Colorado continues to be the only state in the country that does not license funeral home directors or employees," said Roberts. "We license the businesses themselves, but we don't license or oversee the people who work in the businesses, and unfortunately, we continue to see these tragedies happen all across the state." 

Wilson and her family see the need for licensing but want to go further. 

"Not just licensing but these people need to be vetted," she said. 

The operators of the Return to Nature Funeral Home had issues like financial troubles that may have indicated a problem. Jon and Callie Hallford are being investigated says the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, but as of yet they have not been arrested or charged.


Colorado did implement unannounced inspections after the discovery that a funeral home in Montrose was selling body parts without permission and two people pleaded guilty in an investigation that wrapped up earlier this year. 

However, the state did not approve the money. One inspector spent one-quarter of the job on such inspections doing only about a half dozen since the legislation went into effect in 2022. 

"I don't even know what that means. But I do know that not enough inspections are taking place," said Wilson. 

Roberts says there will need to be a new bill next year to require once again the existing licensing of funeral homes, but that he hopes to add more onto it. 

RELATED: Calls for new regulation of death care industry mounting after discovery of bodies inside Colorado funeral home

"That's the bill where we could add funding for more inspectors, and more standards around the quality and practices of the funeral homes themselves. So, that will probably be the bill where the funding goes." 

He says he has bipartisan support and will talk to the governor's office to get support as well to ensure regulations can be carried out. 

The Department of Regulatory Affairs is conducting what's called a "sunrise review" which is their formal process when a new licensing procedure may go into effect. 


That's due to be published in early December. Roberts is waiting for that review. Wilson says she will be ready if needed to testify in the Legislature on the need for tighter regulation. 

In the meantime, the family is getting help from another Colorado Springs funeral home to get her mother's ashes cremated. They will go back to Hawaii, to spread them for real this time.

"Without a doubt. That's what she wanted. It's not even a question whether we're going to do it again. She's waited too long."

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