Grieving family learns son they thought they buried is still alive
The family is fighting to ensure this never happens to anyone else.
By Eun Kyung Kim, TODAY
(NBC News) - Frank Kerrigan laid his son to rest in a California plot next to Kerrigan's late wife, giving him a send off “he would have been proud of.”
Weeks later, he got the shock of his life: His 57-year-old son, Frankie, was still alive.
The nightmare began on May 6, when he received a call informing him that his son was found dead. Authorities identified the body by his fingerprints.
“And as soon as they said it was by his fingerprints, that was the dagger in my heart,” said the elder Kerrigan, 82. “That is what — I knew he was gone.”
Frankie, his oldest son, is mentally ill and homeless, but he still kept in occasional contact with his family.
Kerrigan’s daughter, Carole Meikel, said she feared something like this would happen to her brother.
“It was my worst fear come true,” she said.
More than two weeks after the family spent $20,000 on an Orange County funeral, attended by numerous relatives who flew in from out-of-state, a family friend who was a pallbearer at the service called Kerrigan with unbelievable news.
“They said, ‘Mr. K., your son is alive!’ and I said, ‘Oh my god,’” he said. “Frank gets on the phone and says, 'Hi, Dad. How are you doing?’”
Authorities had misidentified the body of a man found outside a Verizon store. They declared he was Frankie Kerrigan based on an old driver’s license photo, the coroner’s office told the Kerrigan family lawyer.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is conducting an investigation and released a statement extending its “regrets” to the Kerrigan family “for any emotional stressed caused as a result of this unfortunate incident.”
Doug Easton, one of the family's attorneys, said that's not enough.
“There’s no excuse,” he said. “It's a horrific thing, a terrible thing that happened to them, and it shouldn't have happened.”
The family is fighting to ensure this never happens to anyone else. They have plans to file a civil lawsuit over their emotional trauma.
“We’re so happy for Frank to be with us and we're joyous, and at the same time we still feel the pain,” Kerrigan said.
Meanwhile, the identity of the man who was buried last month remains unknown.