NewsCovering Colorado


Families victimized by Return to Nature react to new bill requiring licenses for funeral directors

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Posted at 6:06 PM, Mar 04, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-04 20:28:35-05

Lawmakers in Colorado want to see the state's funeral industry regulated up to the standard of its neighbors. A bill, introduced in the state senate, would require those working in funeral homes to be licensed.

Colorado Springs State Senator Bob Gardener co-introduced the legislation that would require funeral directors to be licensed in order to operate in the state. It would mean they must meet certain educational and professional requirements and pass a criminal background check.

For years Crystina Page wore a necklace filled with what she thought were her son David's ashes. But when investigators discovered his body among nearly 200 others, decomposing inside Jon and Carie Hallford's Return to Nature Funeral Home, she had to relive his passing and do the unimaginable.

“I actually witnessed my son's cremation. I pushed him in...and hit the button. So I was able to cremate him myself this time so I could make sure it was my child," Page said.

She joined other Return to Nature victims' family members at the statehouse on Monday, March 4 to see lawmakers introduce legislation to regulate who can work in the state's funeral industry.

In the canary yellow press room, State Senator Dylan Roberts took the podium and declared, "Enough is enough." Too long has Colorado been a running joke inside the funeral industry for its low standards, presenters said. Roberts said his bill to require licenses will give the state a framework so it can begin to regulate the "bad actors" within it.

The licensing requirement would not only apply to funeral directors, but to natural reductionists, embalmers, cremationists, and mortuary science practitioners as well.

"To be eligible, you had to graduate from an accredited educational institution, pass a national board exam, complete an apprenticeship of at least one year, and pass a background check," Roberts said when explaining the details of the bill.

Those who already run a funeral home or practice any post-mortem services must show 6500 hours of fieldwork and pass a background check to become licensed.

While it's a first step, Sheila Canfield Jones wants to see the bill require funeral directors and those employed in the industry to be bonded and insured. She lost her daughter Marella in 2019 and later learned her body was inside the Return to Nature Penrose facility.

"Every bill and every legislation has gaps. And once it goes through and it passes and gets a trial of time, you say, 'Oh, it needs to be changed.' So you have to look at it that way and that's hard for us," Canfield Jones said.

Page is disappointed by the bill which she believes falls short of preventing funeral home owners from abusing or mishandling bodies, as is alleged to have happened at Return to Nature. She notes that the owners who are now charged with abuse of a corpse, money laundering, fraud and theft, meet all of the requirements under the bill as drafted to be licensed in Colorado.

"The bill doesn't do anything to prevent what happened to the victims of Return to Nature," Page said.

The state's Department of Regulatory Agencies will track the licenses, and its director says it is up to the task. The legislation states the full license system will be in place by January 1, 2026.