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Officials raise body count at Colorado funeral home to 189

Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Authorities in Colorado said they removed dozens more decomposed bodies that were improperly stored at a funeral home, deepening the gruesome discovery made by deputies more than two weeks ago.

Deputies who first entered the Return to Nature Funeral Home on Oct. 4 initially believed the body count to be around 115, but by Tuesday investigators raised the number of dead to 189 -- amounting to six dozen more bodies than initial police estimates.

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The Colorado Bureau of Investigation added that the toll could change as the investigation advances.

"While the investigation for this incident continues, we also remain focused on the impacted families," Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper said in a Tuesday statement. "We want to do all we can to provide the families the support they need as we shift to the next phase in this process."

Investigators say the remains were improperly stored inside the 2,500-square-foot business that offered what it called "environmentally friendly" burials to Colorado residents, which is legal under state law so long as remains are placed in cold storage within 24 hours of death.

However, it was not immediately clear if any crime had been committed, and so far no arrests have been made.

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Cooper described the scene as "horrific,"as authorities said all the bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition, making DNA testing necessary to identify them -- a challenging procedure that could take several months.

The building appeared abandoned, surrounded by weeds and an overgrown landscape, broken windows and debris and trash scattered about the perimeter.

The stench of death in the air prompted the emergency calls to law enforcement authorities in Penrose on Oct. 3, but police had to wait for a warrant to enter the building, which delayed the shocking find by one day.

Last Friday, all the bodies were transported to the El Paso County Coroner's Office, where staff was working to determine the identities.

Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said he sent members of his staff to join the effort to identify victims and notify the families of the deceased.

"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," Keller said in a statement.

The funeral home's registration with the state expired in November 2022.

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