Father buries son only to find out he's still alive

Publish Date
Tuesday, 27 June 2017, 12:20PM
Photo / Getty Images

Photo / Getty Images

A Californian man who attended his son's funeral received a shocking phone call from a friend.

His "dead" son was still alive.

whom coroners mistakenly pronounced as deceased.

According to the Daily Mail, on May 12, Frank J. Kerrigan, 82, watched as the coffin that contained the body of a man widely assumed to be that of his son, Frank M. Kerrigan, was interred at the Cemetery of the Holy Sepulchre in Orange County.

Moments earlier, the family and its friends gathered for a memorial service at Holy Family Catholic Cathedral, The Orange County Register reported.

On May 23, however, the phone rang in Kerrigan’s home.

Bill Shinker, a longtime family friend who served as a pallbearer at the $20,000 funeral, was on the line.

"Your son is alive," he told his friend.

"Bill put my son on the phone," Kerrigan said.

"He said 'Hi Dad'".

It was a miraculous turn of events for the grief-stricken family, though now the question was how could such a mishap occur and who was the individual buried at the Orange County Cemetery.

On May 6, the senior Kerrigan was notified by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department that he needed to get in touch with the Orange County Coroner.

Kerrigan called the coroner and was told that his 57-year-old son, who is homeless and suffers from mental illness, was found dead behind a Verizon store in Fountain Valley.

When he asked if he should identify the body, the coroner’s office told him that wasn’t necessary since his son’s identity was already confirmed by fingerprints.

It was only after the ordeal that Kerrigan learned the coroner was mistaken.

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

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

At the funeral, Kerrigan opened the casket to take one last look at his son.

But apparently, he was so overcome with grief that he didn’t notice the man in the casket wasn’t his son.

"I took a little look and touched his hair," Kerrigan recalled. "I didn’t know what my dead son was going to look like."

Frank’s brother, John Kerrigan, gave the eulogy, and about 50 people came from as far as Las Vegas and Washington State. 

Kerrigan also said it was odd that when the family received the dead man’s belongings, it didn’t contain items they were expecting, like a wallet with his identification or a prized watch.

After the younger Frank called his father to assure him he was alive, the family hired a lawyer to investigate.

It turns out that the coroner’s office never conducted a fingerprint identification.

The authorities apparently determined it was Frank M. Kerrigan because the dead man bore an outer resemblance to him.

When the fingerprints of the dead man were put into the computer, they did not match those of Frank M. Kerrigan.

The family has begun to take steps toward legal action against the coroner’s office.

The lawsuit will claim that the Kerrigans' civil rights were violated because the coroner's office failed to make adequate efforts to determine if the body was indeed that of Frank M. Kerrigan.

The family's lawyers say that they know the identity of the man buried in Frank M. Kerrigan’s final resting place, according to KABC-TV.

The identity of the unnamed victim has yet to be released because it is not known if the person's family has been notified.

The Orange County Coroner's Office referred DailyMail.com to the Sheriff's Office for comment.

A spokesperson for the Sheriff's Office said that due to an ongoing internal investigation, it is unable to release any details at this time.

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

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

The family is currently in the process of re-applying for Social Security benefits that were cut off once the federal government was informed that Kerrigan was dead.

Frank M. Kerrigan has returned to living on the street, according to the family. He has declined to be placed in a shelter.

His mental state is such that he does not understand the magnitude of what his family has just experienced, according to his sister.

Still, the family is relieved, though it is recovering from the trauma.

"We lived through our worst fear," Meikle said. "He was dead on the sidewalk. We buried him. Those feelings don’t go away."

This article was first published on Daily Mail and is republished here with permission.