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Ashes of 89 people found in boxes and bags in abandoned church in Ohio

CLEVELAND, AP — Investigators in Ohio found the cremated remains of 89 people stored in boxes and bags at an abandoned church in Akron, authorities said.

The remains were seized from the Greater Faith Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday by investigators from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Attorney General spokesman Steve Irwin said Thursday.

The church is owned by Shawnte Hardin, 41, who faces 44 counts including racketeering, falsifying records, impersonating and abusing a corpse in Lucas County, more than 100 miles from ‘Akron.

Some of the charges relate to alleged criminal offenses in Franklin, Summit and Cuyahoga counties, where authorities say Hardin acted as an unlicensed funeral director. The cases were clustered in Toledo. Hardin pleaded not guilty.

Hardin’s attorney, Richard Kerger, said Thursday that a former funeral director named Robert Tate Jr. asked Hardin in 2017 to store the ashes of people whose families had not claimed them.

“There was no compensation for him,” Kerger said of Hardin. “He was just doing a favor for someone who needed it.”

Tate did not contest a felony charge and three misdemeanor charges in November 2015 after the board of authorities found 11 bodies in various states of decomposition at his Toledo funeral home. He was sentenced to one week in jail and probation. He died in December at the age of 65.

The remains in Akron were originally discovered Sunday by a woman who told a state investigator she was an “urban explorer” and entered through the open door of an abandoned church. She contacted the Ohio Bureau of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, triggering the state’s investigation.

The woman said some of the ashes dated to 2010, according to a search warrant affidavit written by state investigator Arvin Clar.

Kerger disputed that the church was abandoned. He said Hardin has been unable to check out the building since he was placed under house arrest at his mother’s home in Columbus while awaiting trial.

Hardin was originally charged with 37 counts in September after being accused of running an unlicensed funeral operation. The investigation began the same month after someone called 911 and reported seeing a dead body being moved from a van into a building.

State agents then removed two bodies from the building.

Hardin told a Columbus television station at the time that he was not acting as a funeral director, but rather provided low-cost services for transporting and washing corpses.

He was charged with seven additional counts, including abusing a corpse in December.

According to his attorney, state law does not require a funeral director’s license to bury people.

“There’s nothing wrong with helping people get rid of the remains of their loved ones,” Kerger said.




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