EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Several family members in El Paso allege a local funeral home misplaced a loved one’s remains. However, the business claims the increase in cremation demand is to blame for the long wait times for loved ones’ remains.
“They couldn’t find her in the system,” says Itati Spence, who lost her grandmother a few months ago, “we were like, what do you mean you can’t find her?”
Spence said when her family reached out to Perches Funeral Home to make arrangements, they were originally told the process would take about a month since they had requested cremation. After waiting for some time, Spence says her family was not receiving any calls from Perches. After waiting three months, they hired an attorney to help them search for their grandmother.
Spence is not the only family who claims their loved one was lost.
“I told them, no, no, no, this is not my brother,” Isabel Pineda and her family tells us her brother passed away in November, and to this day, his body is still not cremated.
“They said ‘well we can send it to you, the fingerprint,'” Pineda says she did not believe it was her brother’s body when she saw it and did not sign off on the cremation arrangements, that is when Perches offered to send her his fingerprint, but she said because they had the fingerprint in his file. They told Pineda her brother’s remains had been in different locations. That is why she is having a hard time believing those remains are of her brother.
Perches Funeral Homes’ representative admits the pandemic affected operations, leaving them with limited space to store bodies and stretching out their staffing to accommodate the high number of deaths. They had to reach out and partner with other area mortuaries.
“There have been accusations that we have lost somebody,” said D’Ann Derr, Funeral Director and Assistant Manager at Perches Funeral Home, “A lot of times, family members are calling in, and our staff members are put on the spot, so they come across like we have lost their loved one,” said Derr. She adds that they understand the family members are grieving, and they need to take a moment to stop and trace the records to determine if a mortuary partner picked up the remains, and they have to reach out to verify the location.
According to Derr, cremations have been in high demand during the pandemic, and with limited crematories in our area, the wait times for this service have increased. “Cremation is very strict. We have rules and regulations that we follow, and that’s why it’s taking longer than most families are accustomed to,” she said.
The families we spoke with say that despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, those facing the loss of a loved one, there is no excuse. They point to the fact they spent “good money” and promises were made to them.
Spence and her family received the remains of their grandmother recently, and they still want to pursue DNA testing on the ashes to verify and make sure it is their grandmother. But for now, Spence says she wants to say her last goodbyes to her grandma and help others do the same.
“We just don’t want other to go through the same thing that we are going through,” said Spence.
There are currently two legal filings in District Court against the Perches Funeral Home. One of those claims, filed in late February, alleges the body of a 59-year-old woman was dressed in the clothing and jewelry of an 83-year-old and placed in the casket for the 83-year-old woman’s Rosary.
The court documents allege the wrong woman’s body was picked up from Sierra Providence East Hospital where the 83-year-old woman’s body was to be picked up in late October. KTSM reached out to the attorney in the case, who said a simple check of the hospital tag would have immediately cleared up any confusion. The woman who was placed in the 83-year-old’s casket had a similar last name, but a different spelling and different first name and date of birth.
The other court filing also alleges Perches “lost the decedents’ body and provided no answers to Plaintiff concerning the safety or location of his mother’s remains.”
Both lawsuits allege their loved ones passed away the last week of October. The hearings are pending a court date and resolution.
Other local non-profits are coming to the defense of Perches, including Angel Gomez, director of Operation H.O.P.E.
“I work with several funeral homes and they have never experienced anything like the past year.
The general public has no idea of what our local funeral homes had to go through. The
increased death count because of COVID was overwhelming. Cremations that normally would
take a few weeks were taking as long as four months. Families could not have traditional funeral
services with gatherings for their loved ones,” Gomez explained.
“Perches, who has helped our organization for as long as I can remember and who is always the first to respond when tragedy strikes, was not turning anyone away and was discounting cremations for members in our community because of financial hardship caused by COVID. Because of their heroic actions and capabilities, more persons were coming to them for help, which led to a backlog in the cremation process,” said Gomez.
Thursday, Perches announced the installation of a third cremation retort to allow crematory operators to more effectively manage the high volume of pending cremations, in order to make improvements on current wait time and bring closure to families they serve.
“Prior to the pandemic, we recognized the increased demand for cremation and made the
decision to install an additional cremation retort. However, the order, permitting, and installation
took more than a year to complete, Perches said.
Perches explains the average cremation process requires 3-5 hours per unit to complete, and the pandemic, especially in El Paso, has overwhelmed the funeral industry. To date, 2,323 El Pasoans have died from the virus, many of whom lost their lives in late October and November, at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in El Paso.
“While many funeral homes have reduced the number of cremation requests they would accept,
we have not. We are committed to operating our Crematory 24 Hours a Day 7 days. We will
continue to give personal care and attention to each and every family we serve by offering
affordable cremation prices,” Perches said.