“Hi dad,” those were the words California father Frank Kerrigan heard 11 days after he buried a man he wrongly believed was his son.
Eighty-two-year-old Frank Kerrigan had been told by the coroner’s office in Orange County that his son, Frank M. Kerrigan had been found dead in the street. The coroner’s office had wrongly said that his 57-year-old son had been identified by fingerprints.
Assuming that the coroner’s office could not have made a mistake, Frank Sr and his family buried whom they believed to be his son – only to get a phone call from beyond the grave 11 days later.
“Your son is alive,” longtime family friend Bill Shinkler told Frank Sr before passing the receiver to his son, the Orange County Register reported on Friday.
The Kerrigans’ ordeal began on May 6, when Frank Sr was told by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department that a man found dead behind a branch of Verizon in Fountain Valley was his son, who suffers from mental illness and had been living on the street.
Frank Sr promptly called the coroner’s office to see if he had to go in an identify his son’s body. However, a woman in the office told him that it was unnecessary as he had already been identified by fingerprints.
“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 [have] been there in [a] heartbeat.”
Upon hearing the saddening news, Frank Jr’s sister Carole Meikle went to the scene where her brother’s body had apparently been found. There she laid a photo of him, a candle, flowers and rosary beads in his honour.
“It was a very difficult situation for me to stand at a pretty disturbing scene. There was blood and dirty blankets,” Meikle said.
A funeral service was held for Frank Jr on May 12 and his ‘body’ was buried in an Orange County cemetery. During the service, Frank Sr briefly looked at the corpse and was so overcome with grief that he believed it was 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.”
Just how the coroner’s office misidentified the younger Frank is unclear but Doug Easton, an attorney hired by the family, believes that officials weren’t able to match fingerprints and instead relied on an old driver’s license photo.
The attorney said the family intends to sue the coroner’s office, alleging that they didn’t properly try to identify the body as Frank was homeless.
Frank Jr has returned to his life on the streets and according to his sister is unable to grasp the effect the bizarre incident had on the family.
“We lived through our worst fear,” she said. “He was dead on the sidewalk. We buried him. Those feelings don’t go away.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department said Saturday that an investigation is under way to get to the bottom of the incident.