POCATELLO — Police confirmed on Thursday that the case involving Downard Funeral Home is now being treated as a criminal investigation.
The Pocatello Police Department said in a Thursday news release that computers taken from the business during the execution of the search warrant earlier this month have been sent to the Intermountain West Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory office in Boise for examination.
Created in 2000, the Intermountain West Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory program is a partnership between the FBI and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to operate a regional, digital forensic task force. The laboratories provide forensic services and expertise to support law enforcement agencies in collecting and examining digital evidence for a wide range of investigations.
Pocatello police Capt. Bill Collins told the Idaho State Journal on Friday that officers also seized numerous boxes full of paper documents from Downard Funeral Home.
Pocatello police investigators and Intermountain West Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory personnel are in the process of examining the digital and paper documents taken from Downard Funeral Home and cross-checking that information with files from other agencies — including the Idaho Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics, which tracks deaths, births and marriages in the state — and with the more than 600 tips and requests for information the Pocatello Police Department has received since its investigation into the funeral home began on Sept. 2.
“Again, we thank the community for their support and patience while detectives work through the case,” Collins said. “Our initial priority was to preserve the bodies recovered from Downard Funeral Home and return them to the correct families, and the same goes with cremains that we found. That has been our biggest push.”
Of the 12 bodies recovered from Downard, all but one has been identified and returned to next of kin. Pocatello police said in its Thursday news release that Subject #11 is still unidentified.
“The remains have been examined by the Ada County Coroner, and DNA samples have been taken from the subject as well as reference samples from possible family members to help positively identify the individual,” the police news release said.
The other 11 bodies recovered from Downard by police have been released to the families involved and all but one of the several sets of cremains taken from the funeral home and identified by police have been returned to next of kin as well, said Collins, adding that there are still cremains recovered from the funeral home that have not yet been identified by police.
In addition to the Pocatello Police Department, the agencies involved with the case include the Bannock County Coroner’s Office, Ada County Coroner’s Office, Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office, Idaho State Police Forensic Services and the Idaho Division of Occupational and Professional Licenses.
Pocatello police are also in communication with Idaho State University regarding approximately 50 fetuses recovered from Downard that were part of an ISU biological collection that should have been cremated at the funeral home but were not.
Collins commended each agency for the work that is being done on this case. He said local, regional and state authorities are considering this a high priority case, but due to the amount of files and documents that need to be analyzed it’s very possible the investigation could last months.
“We are going to sift through the information and go back in time as far as the investigation takes us,” Collins said. “This of course means looking at what has happened over the last few months up to the last few years. The biggest thing is what we find in the files and what we don’t find. Analyzing both computer and paper files is very time consuming.”
Collins also said Pocatello police have reached out to other local morticians to understand best practices for handling a loved one’s remains or cremains.
No one has been criminally charged as a result of the police investigation into Downard.
Lance Peck, who owns Downard Funeral Home with his wife, had his licenses to operate the funeral home and the crematory contained inside revoked on Sept. 14 by the Idaho Division of Occupational and Professional Licenses.
Peck had previously voluntarily surrendered his licenses when confronted by state inspectors in early September. Those inspectors then reported conditions at Downard to Pocatello police, who executed a search warrant at the funeral home and launched an investigation.
Collins declined to comment when asked if Peck has been cooperative during the police investigation.
Once the investigation has been completed, Collins said its findings will be forwarded to the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office for review.
County prosecutors will have the final say on whether criminal charges are filed in the case.