Detroit, Michigan is reeling this week from the gristly discovery of 74 dead babies in freezers, containers and a hidden ceiling compartment inside two city funeral homes.
The Detroit News reports police are investigating the Perry Funeral Home and Cantrell Funeral Home, which do not have any apparent relationship to each other. Separate police raids uncovered stillborn babies’ and infants’ bodies improperly stored at both funeral homes, according to the report.
State authorities said they suspended the Perry business’s license, and the Cantrell facility is defunct.
Earlier this month, police said they found 10 fetuses and an infant’s body in a hidden ceiling compartment in Cantrell, based on a tip. A week later, they said they also raided the Perry facility and found 36 fetuses in a box and 27 more in a freezer, according to the report.
A lawsuit by parents Rachel Brown and Larry Davis, of Detroit, alleging fraud and mishandling of their baby girl’s body prompted the investigation of Perry, the Detroit Free Press reports. Brown and Davis said their daughter Alayah died 27 minutes after she was born due to severe respiratory problems.
Here’s more from the Detroit Free Press:
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he was stunned.
“I’ve never seen anything (like this) in my 41 and a half years” as a police officer, Craig said, at a news conference on Friday, adding: “It’s disturbing, but we will get to the bottom of this.”
Craig said police were tipped off to violations at the Perry Funeral Home by a father involved in a civil suit over the improper burial of his infant daughter.
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Lawyers for the father as well as the mother of the deceased baby said the parents are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that they hope will allow them to represent dozens, perhaps scores, of parents whose infant remains were improperly handled by the Perry Funeral Home. The case could become a class-action lawsuit representing every parent who comes forward with a similar complaint, Troy attorney Peter Parks said.
Attorney Daniel Cieslak, who also is working on the case, said he believes Perry may have improperly handled as many as 200 babies’ bodies. He accused the funeral home of taking babies’ remains to the morgue at the Wayne State University School of Mortuary Science but not following through with parents’ wishes for their children’s remains.
The lawsuit alleges Perry improperly handled Alayah’s body, put false information on babies’ death certificates and fraudulently billed taxpayers for services that the business did not perform, according to the reports.
A lawyer for the funeral home denied the claims.
“Perry Funeral Home received these remains from local hospitals who had indicated to Perry that the remains were ‘unclaimed’ by the parents,” an attorney for the funeral home said. “In other words, the hospitals had informed Perry that the hospitals had reached out to the parents by certified mail and/or by phone, and the families did not respond. We do not believe that any of these remains involve families that paid Perry for funeral services.”
However, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said Friday that it suspended the Perry funeral home’s license after an inspection revealed “an imminent threat to the public health and safety.” Inspectors said they found “heinous conditions and negligent conduct” during their Friday morning visit.
After the news broke last week, a number of other parents have come forward, asking questions about how the funeral homes handled their babies’ remains.
The Detroit News reports:
Aiasha Pearson-Bady of Detroit said she was eight months pregnant when on Aug. 31 she gave birth in Harper-Hutzel Hospital to a stillborn girl she named Avah Neveah.
“After the birth, someone from the hospital came in with funeral information and said, ‘You should go with Perry and have them handle the services because they’re affordable,’ ” she said. “So I went with them.”
Pearson-Bady said she visited the funeral home a few days later. “When I asked to see my child before she was cremated, they denied my request,” she said. “They didn’t give me a reason. I thought that was strange, because when my father died, they let me see his body.
“They were supposed to have cremated my baby, but since I heard the news, I’m wondering if I even have my baby’s actual ashes,” Pearson-Bady said. “I’m in limbo right now, just trying to find out what’s going on, and if my baby is one of those that were found in the funeral home.”
ABC News 13 reports a number of Detroit community groups are coming forward to offer help to families who may have been affected. They are providing grief counseling, funeral assistance and other forms of support.