Four dumpsters of garbage had been removed from a former Detroit funeral home full of stains and "horrendous smells" before a grisly discovery on Friday: Eleven infant bodies hidden in the ceiling.
Naveed Syed, CEO of Quality Behavioral Health, purchased the former site of Cantrell Funeral Home less than a month ago and was renovating the building Friday afternoon when investigators from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs told him they needed to take a look around. They'd received an anonymous tip about bodies being stored in the building.
Once investigators found the corpses in the building on 10400 Mack Avenue, Syed said it was "difficult to process what was going on."
"The bodies were badly decomposed, some of their faces weren't even recognizable," Syed said Saturday. "No matter how strong you think you are, seeing 11 dead children takes a toll. It can be traumatizing and it's so sad."
Nine bodies were found in a cardboard box, and two were found in a trash bag placed in a casket, police said. Officials with the Wayne County Medical Examiner's office didn't immediately respond to Free Press requests for information on the bodies' identities or circumstances of deaths.
Syed said the deceased children looked like they were up to three years old at the time of death. He added that bodies the bodies were embalmed or mummified.
Quality Behavioral Health president and CEO Naveed Syed is the current owner of the former Cantrell Funeral Home building on Mack Avenue in Detroit, Saturday, October 13, 2018. The badly decomposed bodies of 11 infants were found in the ceiling of the former funeral home on Oct. 12, 2018. (Photo: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press)
Cantrell Funeral Home was shut down in April after investigators found bodies that had been stored for months in an un-refrigerated garage and other unsanitary areas. The business was also in violation of several other state rules, according to regulators.
"I'm not surprised about the news (of the discovery of the bodies)," Syed said. "These people, the former owners, they were dirty, pitiful people up to no good."
Upon discovery of the bodies, LARA called the police.
Michigan State Police used cadaver-trained dogs to look for any additional corpses — they found none. Officials haven't indicated why the small bodies may have been stored in the ceiling, and Syed said he has no idea why they were there.
He said that earlier Saturday, a building worker had found ashes, apparently from a cremated human.
"It's messed up, man," he said. "There was no respect for the dead."
Syed said he purchased the building four weeks ago from the Wayne County; he estimates renovations will cost about $500,000.
"When I got the building, it was in bad shape," he said. "We have thrown away four dumpsters of garbage.
"There were horrendous smells, the walls were stained, if you smelled the carpet you would have thrown up. It was really bad."
Police said Friday that they planned to speak with the funeral home's former owner, Raymond Cantrell II. Cantrell II had become the owner of the funeral home after his father, Raymond Cantrell Sr., died in 2016.
Family members of Cantrell II operate Cantrell Funeral Services on Kelly Road in Eastpointe. The owners declined to speak with the Free Press.
The badly decomposed bodies of 11 infants were found inside of the false ceiling on each side of the attic ladder at the former Cantrell Funeral Home on Mack Avenue in Detroit, Saturday, October 13, 2018. (Photo: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press)
'A healing process'
Subsequent to the gruesome discovery Friday, Syed took down outdoor signs that donned the Cantrell name. He said he plans on putting up signs that read "Hakuna matata" (a Swahili phrase that roughly translates to "no worries").
He plans to turn it into a community center. Renovations will continue, and he hopes to get the building ready in November, he said.
Syed said it will provide people with social services, including free laundry showers.
"This neighborhood has a lot of issues, and we want to do what we can to help," Syed said. "It's a healing process, and what happened yesterday isn't going to stop us from continuing our work."
Contact reporter Omar Abdel-Baqui: 313-222-2514 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @omarabdelb
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