After authorities discovered more than 100 decaying bodies at a Colorado funeral home in early October, speculation spread that families may have received fake ashes. Thanks to the dogged reporting of Denver-based reporter and Report for America member Jesse Bedayn — who traveled to the rural area and built terrific rapport with affected families — the AP broke the news that confirmed the rumors with an all-formats story. The story, supported by invaluable additional reporting by Rockies chief correspondent Matt Brown, showed how it happened and the aftermath.
Bedayn focused on finding families who had sent their loved ones to the funeral home and soon met a widow who told him she was overcome with anguish because she didn’t know what really happened to her husband’s remains — this established a rapport that would later open the door to connections with several families dealing with the same uncertainty.
As more families came forward with documentation pointing towards impropriety, other families told Bedayn about testing they had done suggesting the ashes were fake. Denver-based videographer/photographer Thomas Peipert was granted access to fake ashes for photos and a video story.
Matt Brown began writing and sought out more crematories that had done business with the funeral home, finding complaints about the funeral home’s failure to pay their bills and finances, building on earlier reporting by the Rockies team. The pair presented the findings to experts in cremations, mortuary science and criminal law to corroborate what the families were saying and give an indication of the criminal charges that could come into play.
AP exclusive scooped all competitors, leading to widespread usage in Colorado and around the country. It was featured on ABC News, LA Times, Fox News, MSN and nearly all Colorado news media websites including 9News, the Denver Post and Colorado Springs media outlets. The video was picked up by members around the world, including Telemundo, Univision, Ciner Medya TV in Turkey, and Voice of America.