Police were called to a Brooklyn funeral home on Wednesday after neighbors said they discovered dozens of decomposing corpses stacked inside a U-Haul and tractor trailer on the street.
NYPD officers arrived at the Andrew Cleckley Funeral Home in Flatlands just before noon, in response to a 911 call about human bodies inside two vehicles, according to a police spokesperson.
There were about 50 corpses in all, according to a law enforcement source who spoke with the Associated Press. One anonymous official told the Times that the freezer at the funeral home stopped working, forcing them to use unrefrigerated vehicles for the decomposing bodies — many of them COVID-19 victims.
Police quickly attempted to cordon off the busy Utica Avenue block, according to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who arrived at the home on Wednesday afternoon. Adams described a rotten-smelling leakage — "either blood or body fluids" — seeping out of the U-Haul truck. Neighbors informed him that funeral workers were moving exposed bodies between the vehicles, he said.
"Families are going to be traumatized," Adams told Gothamist. "A freezer-type truck that's used for temporary morgues is one thing. You don't go pick up your average U-Haul and start dumping bodies inside."
The NYPD directed further questions to the the New York State Department of Health, which oversees funeral homes. The agency did not immediately respond to inquiries. A person who answered the phone at the funeral home declined to comment.
The staggering death toll from COVID-19 — which has now surpassed 17,000 citywide — has overwhelmed hospital morgues, crematoriums, and funeral homes in recent weeks. Michael Lanotte, the executive director of the New York State Funeral Directors, said the uptick was “unprecedented.”
Asked if the city could be doing more to help struggling funeral homes, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday that the owners should have called the Department of Health or the police. "They're a private business who have responsibility," the mayor said, adding that the situation was "absolutely unacceptable."
Pressed on whether funeral homes unable to properly store bodies could return them to the Medical Examiner's Office, de Blasio demurred. "I'm just not going to answer any more questions on this topic," he said.
Adams, meanwhile, said the city had a larger role to play to ensure local funeral homes were not inundated with remains.
"A crisis is turning into a disaster, and there should be better coordination taking place with the Chief Medical Examiner and city of New York," he said. "These bodies should not be treated with indecency in death."