Tuesday 28 January 2020

Father finds out son is still alive after misidentified body is buried

Stock picture of a cemetery
Stock picture of a cemetery

A father found out his son was still alive after a body misidentified by officials was buried.

Frank J. Kerrigan, of California, got a call 11 days after the funeral service held for the person he believed was his son.

"Your son is alive," said the voice.

"Bill (Shinker) put my son on the phone," Mr Kerrigan said. "He said 'Hi dad'. "

Orange County coroner's officials had misidentified the body, the Orange County Register reported.

The mix-up began on May 6 when a man was found dead behind a Verizon store in Fountain Valley.

Mr Kerrigan, 82, of Wildomar, said he called the coroner's office and was told the body was that of his son, Frank M. Kerrigan, 57, who is mentally ill and had been living on the street.

When he asked whether he should identify the body, a woman said, apparently incorrectly, that identification had been made through fingerprints.

"When somebody tells me my son is dead, when they have fingerprints, I believe them," Mr Kerrigan said.

"If he wasn't identified by fingerprints I would been there in a heartbeat."

Mr Kerrigan junior's sister, 56-year-old Carole Meikle, went to the spot where he died to leave a photo of him, a candle, flowers and rosary beads.

"It was a very difficult situation for me to stand at a pretty disturbing scene. There was blood and dirty blankets," she said.

On May 12, the family held a 20,000 dollar funeral that drew about 50 people from as far away as Las Vegas and Washington state.

Frank's brother, John Kerrigan, gave the eulogy.

"We thought we were burying our brother," Ms Meikle said.

"Someone else had a beautiful send off. It's horrific."

The body was interred at a cemetery in Orange.

Earlier, in the funeral home, the grieving Mr Kerrigan had looked at the man in the coffin and touched his hair, convinced he was looking at his son for the last time.

"I didn't know what my dead son was going to look like," he said.

Then came the May 23 phone call from Mr Shinker.

Mr Kerrigan's son was standing on the patio.

It was unclear how coroner's officials misidentified the body.

Doug Easton, a lawyer hired by Mr Kerrigan, said coroner's officials apparently were not able to match the corpse's fingerprints through a law enforcement database and instead identified Mr Kerrigan by using an old driver's licence photo.

When the family told authorities he was alive, they tried the fingerprints again and on June 1 learned they matched someone else, Ms Meikle said.

Mr Easton said the coroner's office provided the Kerrigan family with a name of that person, but the identification has not been independently confirmed.

The lawyer said the family plans to sue, alleging authorities did not properly try to identify the body as Mr Kerrigan's son because he is homeless.

Ms Meikle said her brother chose to return to living on the street and does not understand how hard the mistake was on his family.

"We lived through our worst fear," said Ms Meikle.

"He was dead on the sidewalk. We buried him.

"Those feelings don't go away."


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