Society

Man Learns Son Is Alive Two Weeks After Funeral (Photos)

| by Michael Howard
Person places rose on coffinPerson places rose on coffin

Eleven days after attending his son's funeral, a California man received a shocking phone call from one of the pall bearers: his son was still alive.

Frank Kerrigan, 82, buried his son, Frank Jr., on May 12. At least, he thought he did.

On May 23, Frank got a call from Bill Shinker, an old family friend and one of the pall bearers at Frank Jr.'s funeral, according to The Orange County Register.

"Are you sitting down?" Shinker asked. "Frankie is alive."

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Incredulous, Frank told Shinker to put his son on the line. "He said, 'Hi dad,'" Frank recalled.

Frank first got news of his son's "death" on May 6, when the Orange County Coroner's Office told him that the body of Frank Jr., who is homeless and mentally ill, was found behind a Verizon store in Fountain Valley, California.

When Frank asked if he should identify the body, he was assured that it wouldn't be necessary -- the body had already been identified using fingerprints.

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"When somebody tells me my son is dead, when they have fingerprints, I believe them," Frank said. "If he wasn’t identified by fingerprints I would been there in heartbeat."

But clearly Frank Jr. wasn't identified using fingerprints. So what happened?

According to Doug Easton, an attorney hired by the Kerrigan family, officials said they ran the dead man's prints through a police database and came up empty-handed.

After being told by a witness that the body resembled Frank Jr., who reportedly grew up a few blocks from where the Verizon store is located, the coroner's office found a photo from Frank Jr.'s old driver's license and used it to make a visual identification.

Frank Jr.'s family is now seeking more than $2 million in damages, claiming his rights were violated.

"This was just blatant disregard because he was homeless, just a throw away," Frank Jr.'s sister, Carole Meikel, told CNN.

In an email, Easton said the coroner neglected to "follow proper protocols and precautions in the identification process" because Frank Jr. was homeless. He called the mix-up "outrageous" and said it may constitute a "civil rights violation under federal law."

In a statement, the Orange County Sheriff's Department announced that an investigation into the misidentification was underway.

"The department extends regrets to the family of Frank M. Kerrigan, 57, for any emotional stress caused as a result of this unfortunate incident," the statement said.

The Orange County Register reports that the coroner's office has since made a correct identification of the dead man after having run another check on his fingerprints. However, Easton said the identification has not been independently verified.

As for the elder Kerrigan, he said he is still dealing with the pain of having briefly lost his son.

"It feels like a miracle that my son is actually alive, but that does not take away the pain and grief we've gone through since this ordeal began," he told CNN. 

Sources: The Orange County Register, CNN / Photo credit: Heavensowns/Wikimedia Commons, Kerrigan Family via The Orange County Register

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