The spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association said Monday night that the funeral mix-up that happened Friday in Fairfax — where a funeral home mixed up two bodies — "makes me shake my head and wonder where things went wrong."
The NFDA says it doesn't keep track of how often this type of mistake occurs, but the spokesman for the group said it's extremely uncommon.
"Thankfully there are no statistics [on mixing up bodies at funeral services], because it's such a rarity," said spokesman Bob Biggins of Magoun Biggins Funeral Home in Rockland, Mass. and a past president of the NFDA. He is a member of the association's Professional Conduct Committee, which oversees enforcement of the NFDA Code of Professional Conduct.
The funeral home involved in the mix-up, Everly Funeral Home of Fairfax, is not a member of the National Funeral Directors Association, Biggins noted.
The mistake by Everly was discovered Friday by the family who came to pay their respects to family member, retired U.S. Army Col. Joseph Malvin "Mal" Chapman, 80, who died Nov. 21.
Family members gathered over the Thanksgiving holiday for the service realized Friday that the man they were looking at wasn't their relative in the casket, son James McLain told WJLA-TV. The man in the casket Friday was wearing Chapman's military uniform.
"I can't even imagine the pain and torment that family endured because of that," Biggins said.
Even more worrisome: The family found out that Chapman was already buried, in Winchester, his son told the TV station. The other family — of the man wrongly dressed in Chapman's uniform who they presumably thought was already buried — was also reportedly wondering what went wrong.
There is speculation that a judge's order would be needed to dig up the other grave in Winchester, where Chapman was mistakenly buried, so that Chapman can be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The two areas are about 75 miles apart.
"God forbid it ever happen, but I would take care of every single detail, every single cost involved to make this right," Biggins said. "The family shouldn't be facing any additional costs, anything other than just the pain and anguish they're obviously going through now."
It was reported by WJLA that after the family enquired about the identity of the man in the casket Friday, that eventually the funeral home verified the person's identity using an ID tag on the man's toe. Biggins said that it's standard practice to keep an ID tag on the body throughout the funeral process.
"If the toe tag had someone else's name on it, the funeral home didn't take the time or effort to positively identify" the person, Biggins said. "But the bottom line is that it's just tragic for the whole family and also tragic for the other family."
No one from the Fairfax funeral home, Everly Funeral Homes, would discuss the incident with Patch, but the business did release a statement Monday from Jeffrey Campbell, director of Operations:
"Everly Funeral Home's top priority is serving families. We are working very closely with the families to resolve this matter to their satisfaction. Out of respect for the families' privacy, we choose not to discuss this further."