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Indiana county accused of storing bodies in a barn

ANDERSON, Ind. (WISH) — In a county northeast of Indianapolis, bodies are being stored in the freezer of a barn with a gravel floor.

Indiana authorities are leaning on the county government to clean things up.

The state says employees don’t have running water or proper supplies to conduct death investigations. 

The Madison County Coroner’s Office is facing some serious fines from the Indiana Department of Labor, and the whistleblower told I-Team 8 that the penalties are just the tip of the iceberg.

Katherine Callahan. a former Madison County coroner, told I-Team 8, “I will come back here to the pole barn. I will bring the body out, and I will draw my toxicology in that pole barn without any running water, without sharps containers, without anything.”

Inside of the pole barn at the end of a street just north of downtown Anderson is the Madison County Coroner’s Office freezer.

The barn doesn’t have a concrete floor, sinks, or a proper examination table.

Callahan is a nurse practitioner and, until recently, was the deputy coroner in Madison County. She turned the county in to the Indiana Department of Labor for a number safety violation.

Her breaking point came a year ago when Elwood Police Officer Noah Shahnavaz was murdered. Callahan said, “We go to remove the body from the hearse, and we get it on the gravel flooring, and it is so hot, the family, the honor guard are just sweating, and they are asking do we have any ventilation. I’m like this is the best we have got.”

Shahnavaz’s body was carried across the gravel floor and put into a walk-in freezer.

In the weeks following, Callahan raised her voice and tried to get the county commissioners to properly fund the coroner’s facility. She says her concerns fell on deaf ears.  

Callahan said, “As hurt as they were, those officers did everything. I just couldn’t do this anymore. I have been asking since we took office in January of 2021, and the only thinking I get is sent to my seat.”

The state Department of Labor found six serious violations, from no running water to how contaminated laundry and needles are disposed of.

If the county government’s leaders don’t correct the violations, they could face a fine of $22,500.

I-team 8 asked Callahan if the threat of fines will get the county to shape up,  

“This is what I was told by a commissioner who is no longer in seat: They are going to circle their wagons until they strangulate you, until they force you to tap out. That is what is going to happen. This is only going to get worse.”

Callahan owns and operates a medical practice, and, on Wednesday, she started as a deputy coroner in Marion County, which serves Indianapolis.