Brenda Thomas is rethinking her future.
The Martinez woman had planned to have her body cremated but is reconsidering it after hearing the grisly news of the crematory in northwest Georgia that apparently didn't perform the services it promised.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent in Charge Mike Seigler said he is referring callers to a telephone hot line that has been established for concerned residents. From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., call (888) 887-1845, or call the Walker County Sheriff's Office at (706) 965-5306.
"My future is up in the air," said Thomas, who had planned to have her body cremated and sent to St. Augustine, Fla., for burial.
Thomas has had several relatives cremated, so last Monday she was one of the first to call Elliott Sons Funeral Homes.
"It made me sick to my stomach, just pure nauseated," Thomas said. "I feel so sorry for those poor, pitiful people. You have this closure, then you have to go through that again. My father passed away in 2000, and we had his body cremated. But in the back of your mind, you're thinking, was he really? Now you are going to have your doubt. It's a big concern for me right now."
She's not alone. Local funeral home directors say they have been inundated with calls from people who are concerned that their loved ones might be among the bodies found in Walker County.
"For one thing, we do not use the Tri-County Crematory, and we haven't. We know that there is concern out there," said Mickey Gentry, a spokesman for Elliott Sons. "Elliott Sons has had their own crematory since 1986."
In Noble, Ga., investigators have found at least 242 bodies on and around the 16-acre property where Tri-State Crematory sits. Owner Ray Brent Marsh, 28, so far has been charged with 16 counts of theft by deception.
Investigators have said Marsh told them the bodies were not cremated because the incinerator was broken. The theft-by-deception charges are for taking payment for cremations that were not performed. Because of the condition of some of the bodies, investigators believe some are decades old.
"I've never heard of anything like that," said Columbia County Coroner Tommy King Sr. "There's no words to describe it, really."
King said his phone has been ringing off the hook with people concerned that their loved ones might be among the bodies found in the Walker County site, about 20 miles south of Chattanooga, Tenn.
He said there are three local crematories that he and other funeral homes use. On average, he said, he has about seven to eight cremations a month.
As the cost of funeral expenses rise, cremation is becoming a more popular option. King said a complete funeral might cost more than $6,000, while the basic fee to cremate someone is only about $850.
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