GARDEN CITY, GA (WTOC) - A Garden City funeral home is explaining what happened after a man reported finding a body behind the Families First Funeral Care building on Monday.
“This isn’t a situation where anyone was left or forgotten or anything along those lines,” said Kyle Nikola, owner of Families First Funeral Care. "We gave him access to our building, and he opened a casket without our permission and without our [knowledge] at our facility."
Timothy Smith, a contractor, said he found the body while looking at a building for a project.
“I came here to give a bid on a job. Then I open up a casket in the back building, and there was a body, a rotting body," Smith said. “I ran out. I was sick to my stomach. I just ran out, just mind blown, just scared to death. I didn’t know what to do. It was just crazy.”
Nikola said the body was inside a casket inside the funeral home’s crematory, which Garden City Police confirmed. It’s a metal building behind the funeral home.
Nikola acknowledges Smith was emotional after seeing the body but said Smith didn’t have permission to open the casket in the first place.
“We were contacting contractors to come out to give us information, give us pricing to do some work on the crematory,” Nikola said. “The contractor that came out, we showed him what we needed to have done. Then, unbeknownst to us and without our permission or without any authorization, went over and opened up a casket and saw the individual we’ve been holding for a little while we’ve been working through the process for the family. He was inconsolable, ran out, didn’t talk to us and called the police. The police obviously came out here and in any situation such as that, they did take the deceased to the morgue.”
Nikola said the body has since been released back into the funeral home’s care. He also said the body was embalmed but noted the process of deciding if the individual was to be buried or cremated was longer than usual.
“The individual that passed away did not have any surviving family,” Nikola said. “There was a friend, and that was the only known contact. The wish was for burial to take place. There were promises that were made that they were going to get a donated space and other items along those lines. So the person that passed away was embalmed and placed into a casket with the plans for burial. Those plans fell through due to the promises that were being made didn’t come to fruition. From there, the first thing was the friend was looking for other options or avenues to fulfill the wish of a burial, and so we were obviously holding their friend to wait until they could come to a resolution.”
Nikola said when it didn’t look like a burial was possible, they started considering cremation.
“With cremation, you have to have proper authorization,” he said. “When there’s no next of kin You need to contact the county. They do an investigation before they will sign the authorizations to allow us to do cremation, so that was the process we were going through. Then, when speaking to the friend, once we were able to get that authorization, we’ve been waiting for a response saying, ‘Yes, go ahead and go through with the cremation,’ in case he had any other avenues or any other options that came about. So there has been a prolonged time, but it has been regular communication with the only known person we had within the situation there."
Garden City Police are continuing to investigate how and why the body was inside that building, but right now say there’s no indication of foul play by the funeral home.
Nikola said most of all, he feels the deceased was wronged.
“It’s also an invasion of privacy, trust and probably trespassing, but that’s not for me to determine,” he said. “I mean, we are looking right now at legal avenues for the actions that have taken place. The message is we try to do everything we can for every family we serve. If there’s ever a question about anything that we ever do working with families, I’m always available. I feel sorry for the deceased more than anything.”