How do more than a dozen human bodies go unattended? The accused tries to explain what happened

FUNERAL HOME 2 PKG_frame_1436.jpeg
Posted at 10:52 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 23:52:05-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — First one and then more than a dozen bodies discovered - left to decay. How could this happen when a family was promised their loved one's remains would be returned home?

We've told you about the multi-million-dollar lawsuit. Now we hear from those accused of violating human dignity and showing no respect for the dead.

Freddy Hernandez came to the U.S. from Guatemala in search of a better life. He was killed two years ago in Robertson County, Tennessee.

"It was devastating. It was a family whose twenty-something son is in the U.S. working, trying to make a living and they get word he's been murdered," said attorney John Morris.

Heartbroken, Hernandez's family says they paid former funeral director Reid Van Ness $4,000 to prepare the body and send it back to Central America.

It did not arrive as promised. The family was desperate - where was the body?

"There never has been any maliciousness on my part," said Van Ness.

He told NewsChannel 5 he was in an agreement with Saddler Funeral Home in Lebanon and Nelson and Sons Memorial in Shelbyville to help handle the bodies.

No one could answer the family's questions, so they filed a complaint with the Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers.

Then the investigators made a startling discovery.

"Between these two funeral homes, they found fifteen bodies that had been left - some of them in various states of decay," Morris said.

Including that of Freddy Hernandez.

Attorney Morris has filed a $4 million lawsuit on behalf of the family against Van Ness and the two funeral homes.

"All three are culpable in this very sad, atrocious situation," said Morris.

"I accept my responsibility for the situation," in an exclusive sitdown interview, Van Ness admits. "I think the ball was dropped in various instances."

But Van Ness says he's not all to blame.

Albert Nelson and Steven Saddler, directors at the two funeral homes, declined to comment on camera on specifics of the lawsuit.

Both did say by phone they were helping Van Ness - who no longer had his own funeral home and needed a place to keep the bodies.

Both say they did nothing wrong.

"I am responsible for much, but not all," said Van Ness.

Van Ness said there were many reasons for the delay in the shipping of Hernandez's body: Airline transport availability, lack of communication to coordinate, and...

"Most of it amounts to problems with money," said Van Ness.

Van Ness and the funeral homes also deny allegations in the lawsuit that they targeted Latin American families to take advantage of them financially.

"This community is the same as my family," Van Ness said.

A federal court will decide who is to blame.

Hernandez's body was finally sent home nearly six months after he died.

The state also ordered the directors of the two funeral homes to track the remaining bodies to their families and deal with them properly.

To date - they say that has been done.