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Memorial bench at Bear Creek Park remembers families victimized by Penrose funeral home

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) - A new memorial now sits in Bear Creek Park in Colorado Springs for all the families victimized by the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose.

Those families say the bench that features a plaque brings them some long-needed relief.

Over the course of the last several months, Abby Swoveland has received upwards of $2,300 in fundraising on behalf of all the families, towards a memorial. The initial plan was to plant 190 Aspen trees, for each of the bodies that were found decomposing in the funeral home in October of 2023.

Swoveland says in working with the El Paso County Parks Department she learned that Aspen trees wouldn't survive properly in the climate of Colorado Springs, and instead they decided on a black metal bench with a plaque, reading "Dedicated in loving memory to the victims and families never forgotten. Penrose, CO, 2023."

Swoveland calls it a much-needed space to heal and remember their loved ones, away from all the noise and trauma this tragedy has caused.

"I hope that everyone feels welcome here and finds a place to find whatever peace means for them," said Swoveland, whose mother was identified as one of the bodies in the funeral home.

Meanwhile, on Friday, Samantha Naranjo who used Return to Nature to cremate her grandmother, Dorothy Tardiff, saw the bench for the first time.

"Such a beautiful little spot. I didn't think I would get emotional like this." said a teary-eyed Naranjo.

She says, the bench serves as a perfect symbol of the horrific situation, that can now be viewed in a positive, and peaceful atmosphere.

"Our loved ones, their bodies have been hidden for years. This whole situation that we're in, it was kept the secret," said Naranjo, "And so now that we have something so beautiful to remember them by and it's not hidden, we're right next to the street. Where it's not too loud, but it's just. It's out in the open." she explained.

For Swoveland and Naranjo, the memorial also symbolizes doing right by their beloved matriarchs.

"I feel that I can show this to my Mom and say, look what we did, with the [funeral home] laws too. But being here with her, I hope she's proud," said Swoveland, with a photo of her mother next to her on the bench Friday afternoon.

Swoveland says that next week flowers will be placed around the area by the El Paso County Parks Department and that she is considering using the leftover fundraiser money to purchase a stone for engraving additional memorial messages.

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Tyler Cunnington

Tyler is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about him here.


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