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Medical examiner seeking families of rediscovered, unclaimed cremains in Athens

A funeral home in Athens said they are in possession of "several boxes that contained cremated remains," after the company acquired them from the previous business owner who died in October. (WWMT/Jason Puhr)

A funeral home in Athens said it recently received "several boxes that contained cremated remains," after acquiring them from the family of the previous funeral home owner, who died in October.

"Once the unclaimed urns were given to us, we immediately called the Calhoun County Medical Examiners' office to inform them of the unclaimed urns," funeral home owner Tate Goodwin said. Goodwin owns Lighthouse Funeral & Cremation Services based in Union City, Michigan, which took possession of the former Spencer Funeral Home building on Capital Avenue in Athens through a federal bankruptcy auction in November 2015.

But in October, after the former funeral home owner, Joy Spencer, died, her family discovered the unclaimed cremains in a storage unit and then delivered them to Lighthouse.

Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Saxton said his office is not investigating. Tribal police with the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi in Athens also said they are not investigating the discovery of the cremains. There was no criminal violations in the way the cremains were stored.

Phil Douma, executive director of the Michigan Funeral Director's Association, said Thursday it is not unusual for funeral homes to be in possession of unclaimed remains. The issue prompted the Michigan State Legislature in 2010 to adopt a solution: By setting a legal time limit, six months, under which cremated remains could be declared unclaimed funeral homes now are able to move forward with burial, entombment or placing the cremains in a columbarium.

Goodwin said his company, Lighthouse Funeral and Cremation, acquired Spencer Funeral Home through federal bankruptcy in November 2015 and started the business the following March. He said his team has been working on plans to clear the building out, so it can be ready for demolition and they can rebuild on the same property.

"While it is unusual for the former owner to hold on to them for nearly two years, it is not unusual for a funeral home to be in possession of unclaimed cremated remains," Goodwin said in a written statement on the incident.

He also said the urns were delivered to the Western Michigan University School of Medicine, upon the medical examiner's office request.

The funeral home said anyone who believes that their loved one's cremated remains were stored at Spencer Funeral Home, they should call the Calhoun County Medical Examiner at 269-337-6173.

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