Police removed the remains of 63 fetuses from a Detroit funeral home and regulators shuttered the business amid a widening investigation of alleged improprieties at local funeral homes.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said officers found 36 fetuses in boxes and 27 others in freezers during Friday's raid at the Perry Funeral Home. He said he was "stunned" by the discovery, which came a week after the remains of 10 fetuses and one infant were discovered in a ceiling at Detroit's defunct Cantrell Funeral Home. Those remains were found after state regulators in Lansing received an anonymous letter.
Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said the remains found at the Perry Funeral Home were turned over to state investigators, who immediately declared the funeral home closed and its license suspended.
"At this point there is no connection," Craig said of the two incidents during a press conference on Friday. He noted, however, there were some similarities in the two cases, adding that the press surrounding the first incident is what prompted the parent to report the alleged misconduct at the second site.
Parents Rachel Brown and Larry Davis filed the lawsuit after they allege that the Perry Funeral Home stored the remains of stillborns and babies in the Wayne State University School of Mortuary Science Morgue for years without notifying parents, according to the Detroit Free Press.
They said they believed the remains of their daughter Alayah, who died just 27 minutes after she was born in 2014, were supposed to be donated for medical research to the Wayne State University Medical School.
However, they claim in the lawsuit, filed by Peter Parks and Daniel W. Cieslak, that remains were "carelessly and negligently" never delivered. The parents still don't know where their daughters remains are, the paper reports.
"Any loss is a hard loss," Parks told the Free Press. "But to lose a child you carried at full-term is exceptionally tough, especially knowing their body didn't go where you think it did."
Cieslak added that he was “really wondering where all the rest of them are.”
Craig, meanwhile, called the discoveries at both funeral homes "very disturbing.”
He said his department was working closely with state, federal and local authorities as the investigation into both properties continues, and added that law enforcement agencies were considering forming a task force to target improper storage of remains and fraud in the area.
"I am committed to get to the truth," he said at the press conference. "I am committed to following the evidence."
As part of investigators' widening probe, Detroit police also raided another funeral home, the QA Cantrell Funeral Home in suburban Detroit's Eastpointe, along with a home in Grosse Pointe Woods, to look into any potential connection with the remains found in the ceiling of the Cantrell Home.
The owner of the Perry funeral home, James Vermeulen, has said through his attorneys that the press surrounding the case is inaccurate.
The Collins Einhorn Farrell law firm, which represents Vermeulen, said in a press release obtained by local news outlet WXYZ that the funeral home had "conducted itself within the confines of the applicable statutes."
The firm said the allegations only involve the remains of unclaimed infants that had been given to them by local hospitals after parents didn't claim them and said the funeral home was never informed of any requests to donate the remains to medical schools.
"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," Collins Einhorn Farrell said in its statement.
Wayne State released a statement about the situation on Saturday.
"Wayne State has provided Perry Funeral Home with temporary, secure shelter for remains over the years. However, it has never been our responsibility for arrangements or final disposition of the remains. Wayne State has had no role in either retrieving remains from or delivering remains to that or any other funeral home. This tragic situation is not a university issue," the institution said, as quoted by the Detroit Free Press.
Craig said at this point, the claims of improper disposal against both funeral homes are just allegations and said authorities are in the early stages of their investigations.
"I haven't seen anything like this in my 41-and-a-half years. Ever," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
[Photo Credit: Associated Press]
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