Family Advocacy Support Team (FAST)


sunflowers with a sunset in the background

The Family Advocacy Support Team (FAST) is a groundbreaking program in the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner (OME) that provides support services to people who have experienced an unexplained, violent, or suspicious death of a loved one, including those who died by suicide or overdose. The program also supports those dealing with the death of a child. While tragic and equally impactful to families, these types of deaths don’t often garner the same support that crime or abuse victims and their families receive from victim advocates. This gap in assistance led to the creation of the FAST program, the first in Colorado.

Members of FAST step in to support Denver families who have experienced the recent death of a child, or a loved one by suicide or overdose. While FAST services are available to surviving family members throughout the grief process, FAST is particularly crucial several weeks after the death of a loved one, a time when family and friends have often gone back to work and when those left behind cope with a new normal. The team reaches out to provide crisis intervention, guidance on next steps, and community referrals. Their goal is to promote healthy grieving and coping skills so families and loved ones can process their grief and loss in a meaningful way.

Information for Family and Friends

On behalf of the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner, we offer our sincerest condolences for your loss. You likely have many questions about who we are, what we do, and what next steps to take. We hope this information can guide you through some of the unknown. Should you need additional assistance, please call our office directly. Mourning the death of a loved one is hard, but please know you are not alone during this difficult time.

What types of deaths are investigated by the Office of the Medical Examiner (OME)?

We investigate deaths suspected to be homicides, suicides, or accidents, as well as sudden, unexpected natural deaths.

More specific situations are defined by Colorado Revised Statute 30-10-606.

For more information on deaths that are reportable to OME, visit our Reportable Deaths page. 

Why is the Medical Examiner involved?

In certain deaths outlined by Colorado law, OME is required to determine the cause and manner of death.

In general, deaths of a sudden, suspicious and unexpected nature are investigated by OME.

Do I need to identify my loved one?

No. Most often identification is made through fingerprint comparison or other scientific methods.

Is viewing or visitation allowed?

Viewing or visitation is not allowed while your loved one is at OME.

Viewing or visitation will take place at the funeral home you have chosen.

What will happen to my loved one while at OME?

A forensic pathologist will perform an examination to establish the cause and manner of death.

Once this has been completed, your loved one can be released to the funeral home chosen by the next-of-kin or appointee.

I am next-of-kin, what do I do now?

You will need to make arrangements with a funeral home or mortuary. OME is a government agency. We cannot recommend nor deter individuals from using any mortuary or funeral home. We do recommend consulting with friends and family, checking online reviews, and getting multiple estimates prior to choosing one.

If you are not from the Denver metro area, you may wish to work with a funeral home from your hometown, especially if your loved one is to be transported.

Once you have selected a funeral home, you will sign a release form with them, and the funeral home will contact our office on your behalf.

How long will it take before my loved one is released?

Your loved one will be available for release to the selected funeral home after the completion of our doctor’s examination — generally, within 48 hours of death.

Upon receipt of a signed release authorization from the legal next-of-kin, your loved one can then be released into the care of a funeral home.

Is body donation an option?

Generally, donation must be prearranged before death. Occasionally, a donation will be accepted after death has occurred. If you are interested in body donation for your loved one, please reach out to the resources below for more information.

  • Colorado State Anatomical Board
  • HALO Whole Body Donation

What happens to my loved one’s personal effects?

The property is available for release to next-of-kin or appointee during normal business hours.

Otherwise, if authorized by next-of-kin, property may be released to the mortuary for delivery to the family.

How do I obtain a copy of the death certificate?

You can obtain copies of the death certificate by vising our Birth and Death Certificates office online or in person at 120 W. 5th Ave., Denver, CO 80204. Various fees apply.

You may also work with the funeral home to obtain copies.

Are autopsies performed in all cases?

No, autopsies are only performed by a forensic pathologist when deemed necessary by Colorado law.

OME may choose to not perform an autopsy if the cause and manner of death can be certified through the review of existing medical documents.

When will the autopsy report be ready and how do I obtain a copy?

Copies of the autopsy report are usually available 12 to 16 weeks after the date of death.

To obtain a copy of the report, please submit your request online.

Are resources available if there are no funds for burial?

You may contact Denver Human Services Burial Assistance at 720-944-2175 or for possible assistance options.

Grief Resources

When a family member or friend dies, it can be shocking, tremendously sad, and overwhelming. We understand that the death of someone close to you can be the most difficult event you can experience in life. You do not have to do this alone. Ask your family and friends for the help you need. Use the resources available to you and consider therapy or support groups if needed.  If you need further assistance, please contact our office directly. 

What are the next steps?

  • Start notifying family and friends of the death. Use clear language (death, dead, died) when making notifications, especially to children. Avoid vague terminology. (They’re gone. We lost them. They went to sleep.) Ask family and friends to refrain from posting on social media until everyone has been notified. 
  • Choose a funeral home. If one hasn’t been chosen in advance, we recommend calling multiple places for price estimates. Cost can vary greatly from one mortuary to the next. The funeral home will assist you with transportation of your loved one from our office to their facility as well as obtaining death certificates. You will need the death certificates to handle your loved one’s financial matters. 
  • If your loved one is a veteran, there might be financial assistance available. Please contact Veterans Affairs (VA) directly for more information. Rocky Mountain Veteran’s Assistance: 303-399-8020
  • If your loved one was receiving government assistance at the time of their death, there may be financial assistance available. Please contact Denver Human Services at 720-944-2175 or

Breathe and ask for help. You don’t have to do this alone.  

Other things to consider

  • Notify employers and learn of any benefits.
  • Notify schools and learn of any benefits.
  • If professional cleaning is needed, please consider hiring someone. Trying to clean up on your own is not recommended. It can be an overwhelming task and potentially dangerous to your health.
  • Consider contacting a probate attorney for assistance in legal and financial matters, transfer of assets, distribution to creditors and others.
  • Freeze bank accounts and credit cards. Stop any recurring payments.
  • Contact the Social Security Administration (800-722-1213) about SS benefits.
  • Notify mortgage lender of death and get next steps.
  • Notify landlord of death and get next steps.
  • Contact USPS about mail forwarding.
  • Arrange pet care.
  • Alter or discontinue utility services.  

Support for you

  • Agape Healthcare: Bereavement Support
    720-482-1988 |
    Specific areas of support: short-term grief counseling, educational material, memorial services and workshops, telehealth bereavement support, grief support groups. 
  • Angel Eyes: Child Loss Grief Support
    303-320-7771 | |
    Specific areas of support: professional counseling for adults, couples, families, and children after the death of an infant.
  • Heartlight Center
    720-748-9908 | |
    Specific areas of support: overdose, suicide, men’s’ support group, and various support groups on the death of a parent, spouse/partner, sibling, and child. 
  • The Center for Trauma and Resiliency
    303-894-8000 | |
    Specific areas of support: trauma-focused programs for victims (and their loved ones) of crime. They offer child and family programs, elder support, yoga, peer support, and acupuncture.

Support for your child

Children feel and express their grief differently than adults. To help a child process and understand the death, use clear and concise words. "I have sad news, Uncle Jim died today." Give them space to ask questions and answer them honestly. Use age-appropriate language to discuss the death.  Assure them that the feelings they have are normal. Healing and feeling better takes time, but they will be okay.

Talk with the child about the loved one and share fond memories. It is okay to express your sadness and grief in front of children. It helps to normalize feelings that they, too, might be having. If you think the child needs additional support in coping with the death, there are child-specific resources available to you. If you need further assistance, please contact our office directly. 

  • Denver Hospice Grief Center
    303-321-2828 |
    Specific areas of support: individual grief counseling for children as well as adults. Group therapy for adults. Offered on a sliding scale. The death does not have to be hospice-related. 
  • Judi’s House: For Grieving Families and Children
    720-941-0331 |
    Specific areas of support: childhood bereavement, ages 3-25 yrs. old. Educational workshops. Social, emotional, and behavioral support. Group, family, individual, couples counseling, and play therapy.
  • Second Wind Fund: Youth Suicide Support and Prevention
    Specific areas of support: getting youth who have experienced the death of a loved one to suicide, connected with specific therapy.
    *You will need a referral from a qualified provider.
  • Shimmering Wings: Camp Erin and Next PAGE 
    720-443-3178 | | 
    Specific areas of support: support for grieving kids ages 6-17 yrs. old. Monthly online meetups with an LPC. Camp Erin is a summer camp for kids experiencing grief. Next PAGE is an overnight camp for parents/caregivers who are supporting kids through their grief.
  • Tru: Community Care
    303-604-5300 |
    Specific areas of support: yoga therapy, writing workshops, grief-based hiking groups, art groups, family grief therapy, and equine therapy. Support for sudden expected death, bereaved parents, newly bereaved, spouse/partner loss, and child grief. 

The Mourners Bill of Rights

You have the right to experience your own unique grief. No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don't allow them to tell you what you should or should not be feeling.

You have the right to talk about your grief. Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief.

You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions. Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt, and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don't take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.

You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits. Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don't allow others to push you into doing things you don't feel ready to do.

You have the right to experience "grief attacks." Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.

You have the right to make use of ritual. The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More important, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you that rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don't listen.

You have the right to embrace your spirituality. If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won't be critical of your feelings and abandonment.

You have the right to search for meaning. You may find yourself asking, "Why did he or she have to die? Why this way? Why now?" Some of your questions may have answers. Some may not. Comments such as, "It was God's will." or "He is better off." are not helpful. You do not have to accept them.

You have the right to treasure your memories. Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember, so instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.

You have the right to move forward in your grief and heal. It will not happen quickly. Grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself. The death of a loved one changes your life forever.

Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD
Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition
Ft. Collins, CO

FAST Internship and Volunteer Opportunities

FAST interns and volunteers offer emotional support and practical assistance to those who have experienced an unexplained, violent, or suspicious death of a loved one.  Interns and volunteers also work with investigators, administrative staff, and medical examiners to collect and enter data into a case management system. 

Intern and Volunteer Responsibilities

  • Identify resources and make referrals to community agencies.
  • Assist in the design and implementation of a grief support program within OME.
  • Review cases and identify high/at-risk individuals who are candidates for support or outreach services.
  • Develop key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate success of programming.
  • Release decedent’s personal effects.
  • Reach out to loved ones on anniversary of deaths.
  • Develop and send out outreach letters.
  • Collaborate with other community agencies to develop materials for program. 

Why become a FAST intern or volunteer?

This is an opportunity to work with grieving people going through the hardest time of their lives. Your emotional strength and ability to handle difficult situations will not only help your community, but yourself—knowing you personally are making a difference in the lives of people anguished by grief. Your experience at OME may also lead to a rewarding career in victim advocacy. Victim advocates are hired by police departments, district attorney offices, and non-profits who provide social services to those in need, including domestic violence shelters and child advocacy groups. 

Internship Requirements

  • At least 21 years old
  • Must be available to work 15 hours a week for one year
  • GPA of at least 3.0 and majoring in criminal justice, gender studies, human development, family studies, human services, psychology, sociology, or similar field
  • Complete a background check, onboarding and trainings required by the City and County of Denver and FAST coordinator
  • Sign a confidentiality agreement

*Students at Metropolitan State University of Denver receive school credit thanks to a partnership with OME.

Volunteer Requirements

  • At least, 21 years old
  • Educational background or work experience in either criminal justice, gender studies, human development, family studies, human services, psychology, sociology, or similar field preferred, but not necessary
  • Complete a background check, onboarding and trainings required by the City and County of Denver and FAST coordinator
  • Sign a confidentiality agreement
  • Hours vary based on agency need

How to Apply

Are you interested in joining the team as an intern or volunteer? Applicants should email a cover letter, resume, and transcripts (for internships) to