82-year-old Frank J. Kerrigan was still mourning the loss of his mentally-ill, Homeless son, who he had laid to rest eleven days before. He then received a phone call from his friend, Bill Shinker, to tell him his son, Frank M. Kerrigan, was still very much alive. He asked Shinker to put his son on the phone and heard the words, “Hi Dad.” It turns out the orange county coroner’s office had misidentified the body.

Homeless man found dead in Fountain Valley

As reported by the Orange County Register, on May 6 a man’s body was discovered behind the Verizon store in Fountain Valley. When Kerrigan called the Orange County coroner’s office, he was told the dead man was his son, 57-year-old Frank, Jr.

His son was mentally ill and homeless, living on the streets. Kerrigan asked if they needed him to identify his son’s body, but was told by a woman at the coroner’s office – incorrectly – that he had already been identified through his fingerprints.

Kerrigan said he believed them when they told him his son had passed away, after they told him they checked his identity through his fingerprints. If that hadn’t happened, he would have immediately gone to identify his son.

It was hard for Frank’s sister, Carole Meikle, 56, of Silverado, too, as she visited the spot where her homeless brother had allegedly died to leave a small memorial to him.

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Meikle said it was a “pretty disturbing” scene with dirty blankets and blood. The family had been told Frank had died peacefully, but the scene on the street gave no indication of that fact.

Before the funeral, the grieving father had even looked at the man lying in the casket to say goodbye, but didn’t realize it wasn’t his son. Kerrigan said he didn’t know what his dead son would look like and that the family had lived through their worst fear.

Family holds a funeral for their lost relative

The family held a $20,000 funeral for Frank in Orange on May 12, with around 50 mourners attending and Frank’s brother, John, gave the eulogy as his brother was buried around 150 ft. from his mother. Meikle said of the funeral that they had believed they were burying her brother, but somebody else got a “beautiful send off” instead.

Due to the incorrect death identification, the federal government stopped disability payments for Frank, but Meikle says they are working to restore those payments.

She added that as her brother had chosen to remain homeless, they had lived through their worst fear, adding that those feelings don’t go away.

Kerrigan has hired an attorney, Doug Easton, who told the media that officials at the coroner’s office had tried to match the dead man’s fingerprints in a law enforcement database but without success. They reportedly identified the man as Kerrigan through an old driver’s license photo.

Coroner’s office runs fingerprints again and correctly identifies dead man

Once the family knew that Frank was still alive, the coroner’s office ran the fingerprints again and eventually learned they belonged to someone else. While the Kerrigan family was told the name of the deceased person, identification has still to be independently confirmed. Easton said the family now plans to sue the coroner’s office for incorrectly identifying the body as their relative. He said officials didn’t really try to identify him properly as he was homeless.

Coroner’s office reviewing the identification process

As noted by Buzzfeed, a spokesman for the Orange County coroner’s office said Saturday that the department regrets the emotional stress placed on the Kerrigan family by the “unfortunate incident.” Lt. Lane Lagaret went on to say the Orange County Sheriff’s Department will conduct an internal investigation into the error and that identification procedures and policies will now be reviewed to ensure this doesn’t happen again in the future.