COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) - About a dozen family members, whose loved ones were found decomposing inside a Penrose funeral home, attended the owners’ first in-person court hearing Tuesday, and they didn’t come alone.
Anytime Jon or Carie Hallford looked toward the gallery during their first appearance hearing Tuesday, they saw family members holding up pictures of people the couple are accused of abusing.
One of those pictures was Sally Swoveland, a local business owner of Mountain Man in Manitou Springs. She died in August at the age of 77 and was recently identified as one of the nearly 200 bodies inside the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose. Her daughter, Abby Swoveland, was the one holding up her picture.
“We all just knew we wanted our loved ones to be represented,” Swoveland said. “We wanted (the Hallfords) to see their faces, especially after how they were treated. The picture of my mom will come to every appearance with me.”
Swoveland said the court hearing reignited the trauma from the last two months, so she said she will rely on her mother’s outspoken and strong-mindedness to get through what is expected to be a long court case.
“The way that I'm coping with it is being strong and doing this for my mom and I will see it through for her,” she said. “I'm definitely pulling energy from her.”
Mary Simons, who used Return to Nature to cremate her husband, was also at the hearing. She said she is still full of anger and pain.
“I'm angry,” she said. “I feel like we still haven't gotten any answers. It's kind of a waste of time”
Simons said her husband was supposed to be cremated by Return to Nature in August, but she never received his ashes. He was later identified as one of the bodies inside the Penrose building. Simons was one of the first families to receive their loved one’s remains back.
She said she keeps some of her husband's ashes in a necklace and is waiting to spread the rest of them in a lake up in the mountains. On Saturday, Swoveland said they held a service for her mom after they recently received her remains.
Swoveland said the families of the victims are now forever intertwined following the gruesome discovery. Many even met in person for the first time at Tuesday’s hearing, including Swoveland and Simons.
“We're one big family,” Simons said. “We've all been through the same thing. It's great we're all here.”
When asked what these families hope to come from this court case, many mentioned the Hallfords receiving prison time. However, the overwhelming response was a call for change to Colorado’s laws, including required licensing for the funeral home industry, so something like this never happens again.
“We've got to continue to make changes in Colorado law and make regulations tougher,” Swoveland said. “It can't be that anyone can just open a funeral home.”
“I hope that the laws change so this never happens to anybody else,” Simons said. “I hope these guys go away to prison for a long time. I hope that as a community, as a whole, we can come together.”