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Federal officials begin demolition of Return to Nature funeral home in Penrose

'Return to Nature' Funeral Home
Posted at 3:26 PM, Apr 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-17 09:43:04-04

PENROSE, Colo. — After weeks of delays, federal officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began demolishing the Return to Nature funeral home in Penrose on Tuesday morning.

Before the EPA started its demolition, local leaders held a ceremony in front of the funeral home for victims' families.

Among those families was Crystina Page, who lost her son David in 2019.

"He was intelligent and funny, and had such a fight in him for truth and justice. That's where his passion was," Page said.

After his death, Page moved away from southern Colorado, wanting a new start. But a phone call brought her back.

"It didn't connect for me because the name of the funeral home we used was Return to Nature in Colorado Springs," she said, adding she thought her sons remains had gone there, not to Penrose. "So it wasn't until I got a call from Randy Keller and Alicia, and Special Agent Cohen with the FBI, that I was notified that David had been identified.

That meant the urn filled with cremated remains she carried in her arms Tuesday morning was filled with the ashes of someone she didn't know.

"It could be any one of the victims that went before my son that I've been carrying. And I won't ever know. And neither will their family," Page said.

Page wasn't the only victim family member at the ceremony. Others sat and listened to officials as they held onto pictures of loved ones.

Federal officials begin demolition of Return to Nature funeral home in Penrose

Randy Keller, the Fremont County Coroner, addressed the families, telling them his hope was they walk away from the demolition feeling a tiny bit better, at the very least.

"The beginning of the demolition today hopefully marks a day of closure and the continued healing for all the victims associated with this horrific event," he said.

Keller's office still has 17 bodies left to identify, he said.

"I've moved forward with the DNA process on all remaining descendants," he said. "My goal and my office's goal is to identify every loved one that has been removed from this facility."

Despite the move to tear down the physical reminder of where nearly 190 bodies were improperly stored, Page said she felt as if the demolition was reopening a wound.

"I also somehow feel that my son is being scraped off the Earth and taken to to landfill," Page said.

But she said she recognizes all she can do at this point is hope for healing and wait for investigators to reveal more answers.

"I don't know what the alternative solution is and I know this is the best thing that could be happening," she said.

The expectation was to finish the demolition of the funeral home by the end of the day Tuesday.

EPA officials said the process to truck debris from Fremont County to Otero County could take up to 10 days, and could start as early as Wednesday.

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