The crematory’s owner, Ray Brent Marsh, 28, was arrested Saturday, Feb. 14, and charged with theft by deception for taking payment for cremations he didn’t perform.
Investigators believe bodies stacked up at the crematorium for about 20 years.
“It’s just so morbid,” said Evelyn McClure, whose home sits less than a mile from the crematory in Noble, a small community about five miles north of LaFayette.
“The idea of something like this going on so near to me is eerie,” said McClure on Sunday, Feb. 17.
The discovery of one bone multiplied to well over 100 Saturday, Sunday, and Monday as families met for counseling at the Walker County Civic Center. The body count is expected to top 200, officials said.
Center Point Baptist Church, a small wooden church a few hundred yards from the crime scene, was opened to grieving families. The church’s pastor, Charles Cornwell, said he met his most trying task as a minister while he talked with the families.
He said many feel deceived, hurt and angry that the sanctity their deceased relatives deserve was violated.
Gov. Roy Barnes, who declared a state of emergency in Walker County to help local authorities pay for the investigation, visited with families Sunday after he flew over the area in a helicopter to assess the grotesque scene.
“In 30 years of work as a prosecutor and public servant I have never seen an incident such as this,” he told reporters during an afternoon press conference.
He said Marsh did not do what he promised families, “but rather allowed the depravity of their remains.”
Barnes was quick to say that regulatory legislation will be developed. “This should not happen again.”
He said the families he visited are justified in their anger.
“They are mad,” he said. “I would be upset, too. They thought they had closure on the death of a loved one and they do not.”
The governor said he would meet with the leadership of the General Assembly to discuss funding and how much could be set aside from the state’s budget for assistance of the families.
“The state will pay and do whatever is necessary to treat these families and victims with the utmost respect,” said Gary McConnell, director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
He said local funeral homes in Walker County have also volunteered their crematory services to the families of victims.
By late Saturday, Feb. 16, the GBI had identified 16 of the bodies. There was no sign of the remains of Margaret Walton, whose grandson, Showyn, drove up from Athens on Sunday to find answers.
“For some reason I know she’s out there,” he said. “I know there’s gonna be some bad news.”
His grandmother died Aug. 24, 1999, of congestive heart failure and sent his father into a deep depression.
Walton said he is afraid the news will destroy his father.
“I don’t want to dial some 800 number,” he said, adding that he wants immediate answers, but instead he’s gotten a lot of dead ends.
He said he doesn’t believe Marsh could ever receive sufficient punishment. “I’m mad as hell and want to see some justice come out of this, even if I have to sue him twice over.”
Rusty Cash identified the body of his mother-in-law, 55-year-old Norma Hutton of Chattanooga, he said. Turner’s Funeral Home in Chattanooga sent her body to Tri-State Crematory for cremation two months ago.
He and his wife, Lisa, said they feel violated and powerless, but are grateful to know Hutton’s body has been found and identified, he said.
“I’m angry more than anything,” he said. “I can’t understand why someone would want to do this to people,” adding the situation poses “an embarrassment for this community.”
Cash said Turner’s Funeral Home personnel have been supportive and promised to stay with Hutton’s body until its cremation.
Officials are asking families to bring descriptions or pictures of relatives. Blood tests will later be required of surviving relatives to show a DNA link