AKRON, Ohio — After Ohio BCI agents reported finding the cremated remains of nearly 90 people as part of an illegal funeral home operation earlier this week, many of the suspect’s bewildered and dismayed former customers have been left to wonder: whose remains do I actually have?
Watch this story live on News 5 at 6 p.m.
On Tuesday morning, Ohio BCI agents executed a search warrant at an abandoned church on Buchtel Avenue in Akron. According to court documents, agents were tipped off to the presence of cremated, human remains at the abandoned church, which was later determined to be allegedly connected to Shawnte Hardin, 41, who was indicted in 2020 and indicted again in 2021 on dozens of charges stemming from his alleged underground funeral business.
Court documents state authorities found 89 sets of remains that were located in white cardboard boxes labeled “Tri-County Cremation Service.” Remains were also found in plastic bags that dated back to 2010.
That’s the same year Nick Foreman of Toledo lost his beloved uncle, Rolland Adams. Foreman said Adams was like a second father to him and when Adams passed, Foreman helped to raise money to have Adams cremated.
For nearly 12 years, Foreman has had what he thought was Adams’ cremated remains prominently displayed in his home.
“He was the glue that kept the family together. Everyone loved him,” Foreman said. “I don’t know whose remains I have now. It’s heartbreaking. I don’t see how any human being could do that to somebody else’s family.”
According to the search warrant, Rolland Adams’ name was listed as #45 of the 89 total sets of remains found. BCI’s discovery likely means that Foreman has inadvertently been in possession of someone else’s remains for more than a decade.
“That’s what killed me. I looked at my wife and I said, ‘Who do we have? Who do we have?’ I busted out crying. An abandoned church, that’s where my uncle is. I lost it,” Foreman said.
According to the search warrant, authorities were alerted to the remains after an urban explorer spotted several people entering and exiting Greater Faith Missionary Baptist Church, 825 East Buchtel Ave., and went inside to tell them to leave.
The warrant states that Hardin, an Akron resident, 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.
Foreman said the revelation has re-opened old wounds, leaving him to navigate the grieving process for a second time. Equally as troubling is knowing that another family — the family whose loved one is in the urn at Foreman’s home — is also grieving.
“I can’t even talk on the phone without crying because it hurts so bad. We were trying to get over it. That’s a hard thing for a lot of people to get over, you know?” Foreman said. “I just want them to know that their family member has been very, very, very well taken care of since I’ve had them. I just feel so so bad. I want to bawl right now. I couldn’t sleep all night last night thinking where my uncle is.”
News 5 spoke with Hardin's attorney, who said the cremated remains actually belonged to former Toledo funeral director Robert Tate, who had his license pulled in 2016. The lawyer went on to explain that Hardin agreed to store the remains while Tate tried to reach the families. According to his online obituary, Tate died in 2021.
State officials said the investigation is ongoing. However, it remains unclear when or if the remains authorities discovered will be re-united with the correct family. DNA testing on the cremated remains likely will not be possible because of the temperature required for human cremation.
“I want my uncle back. I want my uncle to be put to rest back with his family where he belongs. I want these people, whoever’s family this is, to be back with them,” Foreman said.