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Cremated remains of 89 people discovered in vacant Ohio church

A search of the Akron church was related to an investigation of a man alleged to have run fraudulent funeral businesses.

Authorities found the remains of 89 people at a vacant church in Akron, Ohio, during a search connected to an investigation into allegedly fraudulent funeral services.

A pair of urban explorers discovered boxes of cremated remains in the building when they noticed the open church doors and believed it to be vacant, according to a search warrant affidavit.

One of the explorers told authorities that some of the boxes had cremation dates going back to 2010, the affidavit stated.

Children's remains were among those found in the church, NBC affiliate WKYC of Akron reported.

Agents with the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducted a search Tuesday and seized the remains.

State Special Agent Alvin E. Clar said in the affidavit that the items found during the search may be evidence of a violation of Ohio's law of abuse of a corpse.

The church is connected to Shawnte Hardin, 41, who allegedly ran funeral-associated services from the Akron building, prosecutors said.

The court filing also alleged Hardin was connected to a Columbus business called Islamic Cemetery. He was allegedly in possession of cremated remains from that location despite prohibition of the practice by the Muslim faith, it said.

Officials did not say whether Hardin has been charged in connection with the recent findings at the church.

A Lucas County grand jury indicted Hardin in October on allegations ranging from fraud to operating an unlicensed funeral home.

Seven additional charges related to death services were added last month, bringing the number of counts Hardin faces to 44, according to a spokesperson for Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

The case spans multiple Ohio counties where Hardin allegedly did funeral-related work.

The October indictment included eight counts of abuse of corpse. The Bureau of Criminal Investigation had removed two bodies from a Columbus building Hardin allegedly used for “makeshift” funeral services, according to an attorney general’s statement.

He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Hardin's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The lawyer, Richard Kerger, told The Associated Press a former funeral director had asked Hardin in 2017 to store ashes described as unclaimed.

"There's nothing wrong with helping people dispose the remains of their loved ones," Kerger said.

Kerger said the Akron church has not been abandoned; his client hasn't been able to check on it because he's been on home detention in Columbus pending trial.

Hardin’s name is on a sign outside the church that describes him as a reverend, according to the court filing. The building had also been used as his residence, state agents said.