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'Urban explorer' finds 89 sets of ashes in abandoned Ohio church

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Posted at 3:01 PM, Jan 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-14 15:01:21-05

AKRON, Ohio — Investigators in Ohio have found 89 sets of cremated remains in an abandoned church in Akron.

Court documents obtained by News 5 show an urban explorer, or urbexer, who commonly travels around to photograph older buildings, found the cremated remains of multiple people inside an abandoned Akron church on Sunday.

They then notified the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, who passed on the information to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

The remains were found in a building operated by an Akron man currently facing charges for providing funeral services without a license. His attorney said the remains were the property of a now-deceased Toledo funeral director.

According to the search warrant, the urbexer and another party spotted several people entering and exiting Greater Faith Missionary Baptist Church, 825 East Buchtel Ave., and went inside to tell them to leave.

Once inside, the urbexer came across suspected cremated remains. The remains were in white cardboard boxes labeled "Tri-County Cremation Service" and plastic bags dated back to 2010.

"There are significant health issues, significant dignity issues," Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said. "This is not just a regulatory issue. And some of the things we're seeing, they're just not right."

The warrant states that an Akron resident named Shawnte Hardin operated Hussain Funeral Home and Celebration of Life out of the building as recently as Jan. 14, 2019. The sign out front refers to the building as the Greater Faith Missionary Baptist Church. Hardin's name is on the church's sign.

News 5 has previously reported on Hardin, who is currently charged with more than three dozen counts for allegedly providing funeral services without a license.

Hardin was indicted in October 2021, according to the Ohio Attorney General's Office. He is not a licensed funeral director or embalmer in Ohio, court documents state. Last year, Ohio BCI "removed two bodies from a building he was using for makeshift funeral services at 1615 E. Livingston Ave. in Columbus."

In June 2020, a Lucas County grand jury indicted Hardin on a charge of abuse of a corpse. A separate search warrant previously executed at Islamic Cemetery in Columbus recovered the remains of individuals cremated in Akron and had been in Hardin's possession. Court documents noted that the Islamic faith does not "conduct or condone cremations."

News 5 spoke with Hardin's attorney, who said the cremated remains belonged to former Toledo funeral director Robert Tate, who had his license pulled in 2016.

The lawyer explained that Hardin agreed to store the remains in 2017 while Tate tried to reach the families. According to his online obituary, Tate died in 2021.

Yost told News 5 the investigation is ongoing. However, from what people have seen so far, he hopes that there’s a lesson to be taken away.

"Make sure that you are dealing with a licensed professional who is going to abide by the laws and the appropriate health regulations, and secondly, reach out to somebody who's been through it and get the advice of somebody you trust," he added.

It’s not clear at this time what will happen to the remains of those loved ones found and when they could finally be returned to their families.

Drew Scofield and Clay LePard at WEWS in Cleveland, Ohio, first reported this story.