Frank J. Kerrigan’s son is still alive, a fact he was shocked to learn after buyring a body last month that had been identified as his son.
Frank J. Kerrigan, 82, had been told by the coroner that his homeless son had been found dead in the street.
He was told – wrongly – that he had been identified by fingerprints, so the family gave him a beautiful send-off and laid flowers at the spot on the pavement where they believed he died, where there was still a jumble of blankets.
But then a friend called Frank, saying ‘Your son is alive.’
He passed the phone over, and then a voice said: ‘Hi, dad.’
Orange County coroner’s officials had misidentified the body, the Orange County Register reported on Friday.
The mix-up began on May 6 when a man was found dead behind a Verizon store in Fountain Valley, California.
Authorities somehow confused the real man who died with Frank M Kerrigan, 57, who is mentally ill and had been living on the street.
‘When somebody tells me my son is dead, when they have fingerprints, I believe them,’ Kerrigan said.
On May 12, the family held a $20,000 funeral that drew about 50 people from as far away as Las Vegas and Washington state.
‘We thought we were burying our brother,’ his sister Carole Meikle said. ‘Someone else had a beautiful sendoff. It’s horrific.’
The body was interred at a cemetery in Orange about 150 feet from where Kerrigan’s wife is buried.
Earlier, in the funeral home, the grieving Kerrigan had looked at the man in the casket 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 there was a phone call on May 23 which revealed it had all been for the wrong person.
Doug Easton, a lawyer hired by Kerrigan, said it wasn’t clear how it happened but apparently they identified him by using an old drivers’s license photo.
He said the family plans to sue, alleging authorities didn’t properly try to identify the body as Kerrigan’s son because he is homeless.
Sheriff’s Lt. Lane Lagaret, a spokesman for the coroner’s office, apologised ‘for any emotional stress caused as a result of this unfortunate incident.’
The mistaken death identification led the federal government to stop disability payments for her brother, Meikle said. The family is working to restore them.
Meikle said her brother chose to return to living on the street and doesn’t understand how hard the mistake was on his family.
‘We lived through our worst fear,” she said. “He was dead on the sidewalk. We buried him. Those feelings don’t go away.’