Funeral homes in Leadville and Gypsum are under criminal investigation after authorities this month found an unrefrigerated body, bags of unlabeled cremains, an abandoned stillborn infant and at least one instance in which a family received cremains for their stillborn child mixed with bits of adult body parts and metal fragments.
The owner of the funeral homes, Shannon Kent, is also Lake County’s coroner. He’s already facing charges of official misconduct and perjury stemming from allegations last year that he sent his wife Staci to multiple death scenes — even though she wasn’t authorized to serve as a deputy coroner.
Kent has not been arrested in this latest incident and no charges have been filed, though the two funeral homes’ business licenses have been suspended by the state. The Lake County Sheriff’s Office confirmed an active criminal investigation is underway.
Shannon and Staci Kent did not respond to interview requests from The Denver Post.
Details of Shannon Kent’s operations come on the heels of a Montrose funeral home that made international headlines in 2018 after an FBI raid and subsequent two-year investigation.
Sunset Mesa’s operators, Megan Hess and Shirley Koch, were indicted by a federal grand jury in March for allegedly shipping body parts all over the world against the will of family members, who found out years later that the ashes in their homes were not those of their loved ones.
The investigation of Kent’s funeral homes began in February after the sheriff’s office received a complaint by a client regarding the handling of human remains.
On Oct. 2, the Lake and Eagle county sheriff’s departments executed a search warrant at the Bailey-Kent Funeral Home in Leadville, where deputies “encountered a strong odor of decomposition,” according to an Oct. 13 summary suspension issued by the state’s Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration, before finding:
- Used body bags, medical gloves and other surgical equipment with dried bodily fluid on them piled on the floor
- Bodily fluids leaking out of a body bag containing an individual who had not been refrigerated
- Numerous bags of unlabeled cremains
- A container of animal remains leaking fluids
- Several bodies in refrigeration wrapped in sheets or blankets without identifying tags or paperwork
- An unmarked casket containing a stillborn infant that was “abandoned,” the suspension order states
- Paperwork “scattered several feet deep on the floor”
In addition to the Leadville funeral home, the state issued suspension orders for the Kent Funeral Home Gypsum.
The suspension order details a 2019 instance in which an unnamed individual arranged with Kent’s funeral home for the cremation of their stillborn child. That individual, referred to in the order only as “E.W.,” received no notice that the cremation would be done at the Gypsum funeral home, one of six locations Kent operates in Colorado’s high country.
E.W. did not receive a contract for funeral services, and only received the cremains after several calls to Kent, the order states. After receiving the cremains, E.W. felt they were too heavy to be those of a stillborn child, and submitted them for analysis.
That’s when E.W. found out the cremains contained ashes from an infant, but also “long bone fragments of an older/larger adult individual and metal,” according to the suspension order.
Kent also operates funeral homes in Silverthorne, Idaho Springs, Fairplay and Buena Vista. He has served as Lake County coroner since 2012 and was reelected to a four-year term in November 2018.
Records from the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies show this was not the first time Kent has been in the crosshairs of state regulators.
On March 16, the director of the Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration sent Kent a “letter of admonition” after a state investigator found unembalmed, unrefrigerated bodily remains in his Gypsum funeral home more than 24 hours from the date of death.
Kent also still faces second-degree official misconduct charges stemming from a September 2019 grand jury indictment in the Fifth Judicial District.
The indictment accuses Kent of allowing his wife to go out to death scenes as a deputy coroner, even though she took no oath and an appointment had not been filed with the county clerk, as required by law.
On at least three occasions, Staci Kent allegedly responded to calls from law enforcement requesting a coroner at a death scene, according to the indictment.
In one instance, on March 10, 2019, Staci Kent was “significantly delayed to the scene because the van she was using to pick up the body had a dead battery, bald tires and was buried in snow,” prosecutors alleged. “Further, the van was holding two other bodies that needed to be removed.”
In another call two months later, Staci Kent responded to a death scene without a body bag, the indictment states, which led to an argument with law enforcement. The confrontation escalated when Shannon Kent allegedly called Lake County Sheriff Amy Reyes and threatened her with arrest for questioning his wife’s decision not to use the body bag, prosecutors said.
“Part of my past”
After reading the state’s suspension order this week, two women told The Denver Post that the circumstances surrounding “E.W.” sound eerily familiar.
In February 2018, Lina Cavanagh lost her baby at an advanced stage of pregnancy — a loss that took its toll on her, both physically and emotionally.
“I didn’t believe in depression until I lost my baby,” Cavanagh said.
As she mourned the loss of her son, Cavanagh was referred to the Kent Funeral Home in Gypsum to do the cremation. But days went by and she couldn’t reach anyone. No one would pick up the phone. No one returned her voicemails.
Finally, after a month, she got Staci Kent on the phone and laid into her, asking why she hadn’t heard anything about her son’s cremains. Kent kept giving excuses, Cavanagh said.
A few days later, she was able to pick up the cremains, but like E.W., Cavanagh received no paperwork.
Chantal Reh, an Avon resident, went through a similar experience when she suffered a stillborn birth in August 2018.
The Bailey-Kent Funeral Home was the only option given to her for cremation under a certain weight, she said.
And much like E.W. and Cavanagh, Reh had an immensely difficult time reaching the Kents, the phone ringing unanswered for weeks.
Finally Reh and her boyfriend went to the funeral home with the expectation that they would see their baby. The couple got dressed up in matching outfits and brought a special camera.
Staci Kent, however, wouldn’t let them see the baby, Reh said. All they got was the urn and a death certificate — no other paperwork.
“Now it’s possible it’s not my baby in the urn,” Reh said.
Both Reh and Cavanagh said they want to get the ashes analyzed at the University of Colorado to see if they actually belong to their babies. They both plan to file complaints with the Department of Regulatory Affairs.
Now the women wonder how many others might have had the same experience.
“I went through a very bad crisis losing the baby,” Cavanagh said. “Seeing how this chapter is opening up again is incredible, it’s unbelievable. This whole situation, oh, I thought it was part of my past.”
This content was originally published here.