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Detroit former funeral home owner reveals where 11 infant bodies were found

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
The ceiling compartment where the remains of 11 infants were found hidden inside the former Cantrell Funeral Home.

Detroit — A day after state authorities found the remains of 11 infants hidden in the ceiling of a former funeral home on the east side, the owner of the building said he hopes the horrific discovery doesn't linger in the community. 

An anonymous tip sent by letter on Friday led inspectors from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to the former Cantrell Funeral Home, at 10400 Mack Avenue, where they found the bodies of 11 babies. 

The bodies were stashed in a closet crawlspace hidden between the first and second floor of the former funeral home. Nine were in a cardboard box and two were in a small white casket individually wrapped, some embalmed and others mummified, said Naveed Syed, the building's owner and CEO of Quality Behavioral Health Services, a nonprofit addiction treatment center and counseling services.

"The bodies were stashed like trash up there," Syed said on Saturday as he showed a reporter around the building. "I feel bad for parents who now have to go through more trauma after they found closure. Even I'm still processing it. Seeing eleven kids,  small babies, that’s traumatic for anyone no matter how strong you think you are."

The small casket where some of the remains of the 11 infants were found  hidden in a ceiling compartment were still inside the former Cantrell Funeral Home on Saturday.

Syed said he plans to hold a grand funeral service on the east side for the 11 children after the Wayne County Medical Examiner releases their bodies and families have been notified. 

The "2 star retail funeral home,” was built in 1970, according to the real estate database Costar Group Inc. Syed purchased the 17,349-square-foot building which was up for auction last month with hopes of turning it into a resource center with a wide range of services to benefit the Indian Village community through his nonprofit. 

Workers takedown the address numbers outside the former Cantrell Funeral Home on Mack Avenue in Detroit on Saturday.  The remains of 11 infants were found hidden in a ceiling compartment inside funeral home on Friday.

"This neighborhood has lots of problems from health issues, substance abuse, childcare issues and we want to help fix those," said Syed. "We want to provide shower services for homeless people, giving them clothing, legal aid services, health care, substance abuse services, and a lounge so if they don't have any place to go, they don't linger outside liquor stores. Hopefully, soon we'll be able to offer GED classes.

"That's the goal to revitalize the community and empower them as well."

In April, LARA suspended the mortuary licenses of both the home and it's manager Jameca LaJoyce Boone for "many violations including improper storage of decomposing bodies of adults and infants."

More:Tip leads authorities to 11 infant bodies hidden in former Detroit funeral home

The closet where the bodies were hidden was across from the main showroom floor where they would display caskets and hold visitation services. Syed said he didn't think to inspect the closet when they took over the building but planned on changing the ceiling tiles in the entire building due to the odor. 

"We were planning on ceiling tiles anyways so, workers would have found them shortly had LARA not gotten the tip," said Syed. "Honestly, when (LARA) came to the door, it didn't surprise me. Knowing how this former owner treated bodies before, keeping five or six in the garage in a hot area and laughed during an interview when he was caught... I expected it."

Syed said he purchased the foreclosed building from the Wayne County treasurer after LARA had "closed its case," however, LARA spokesman Jason Moon said the agency's investigation never concluded. 

"The only item I can comment on at this time is that our investigation from our April action has remained open since then," Moon said Saturday. 

Moon declined to comment on if there were any suspects of who sent the anonymous tip and if was similar to the tip they received in April. 

Marissa Osinski, the building manager who works with Syed, was on site Friday when inspectors found the bodies. Marissa said inspectors were instructed by the letter to enter through the left back of the building, go through the narrow hallway and the bodies were hidden in the closet to the right between the staircase. Besides the old elevator, the only way to get to the second floor is through the closet staircase, which leads to four apartments above the former funeral home.  

"I was just up there a few days ago to go check out the apartment and I had no idea I passed right by baby remains," said Osinski, who said she lost a child when she was five months pregnant. "I was hoping they wouldn't find anything, but knowing they had bodies here before... It's just so sad... It's very upsetting to know somebody didn't care enough about somebody's child that they trusted them with and now those families have to relive going through their child passing away."

The Wayne County Medical Examiners Office and Raymond Cantrell Jr., the owner of Cantrell Funeral Homes  did not respond to News requests Saturday. 

Early Saturday, workers covered up the Cantrell Funeral Home sign above the building after Syed decided he didn't want this incident to stay with the building any longer. 

"We took the signs for the funeral home down and we're putting a sign that says Hakuna Matata (meaning no worries)," said Syed. "We want to let people know something better is coming as a healing process for the community."

Workers covering the Cantrell Funeral Home sign on Mack Avenue Saturday morning after the incident. Police were not on site and scene was not tapped off.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_