After a father in California was given the devastating news that his son had died, he and his family planned a funeral and began to grieve. That was until they discovered about two weeks later that he was still very much alive.
Frank Kerrigan was told by the Orange County coroner’s office on May 6 that the body of his 57-year-old son, Frank Jr., had been positively identified by his fingerprints.
“I got the phone call a few minutes later,” Frank Jr.’s sister, Carole Kerrigan, tells PEOPLE. “It’s obviously the worst news that a loved one could get. My brother suffers from mental illness and he has been homeless for years. My worst fear became reality.”
After Carole was informed that her brother was found dead behind a Verizon store in Fountain Valley, she immediately went to the scene.
“It was gruesome,” says Carole, who lives in Silverado Canyon. “There was blood and blankets on the ground. I lit a candle and a man from the store prayed with me.”
The next morning, Carole called the coroner’s office to get more answers about the death of her brother, who was bipolar and schizophrenic.
“I wanted to know, did he have money on him? Did he have the things that would have made him comfortable? I wanted to know what happened,” she recalls. “They said he had his ID on him and $56 dollars.”
“He has suffered from depression for a long time,” she continues. “After my mom died 10 years ago, he never really recovered. She was always able to keep him on the straight and narrow. She was very much his rock even though he was suffering from mental illness.”
Once their mother died, Carole says Frank Jr. spiraled out of control. Over the past 10 years, the family has attempted to help him, giving him cell phones so they could stay in contact, temporary apartments and even brought him to hospitals. But despite all of their attempts, he always wanted his independence and refused to take his medicine.
“It’s been a very rough road with him,” she says. “We need to give him his space because if we hover he’ll leave for a longer period of time.”
The Kerrigans started to plan the funeral immediately, with friends and family coming in for the service on May 11.
“It was beautiful,” she says, adding that he was buried next to their mother. “People came from all over to honor my brother. His friends who hadn’t seen him in years were there. It was very tough.”
The Shocking Phone Call
Just 11 days later, while the family was still trying to process what happened to Frank Jr., his father received a call even more shocking than the one from the coroner’s office.
“Mr. K., are you sitting down?” Bill Shanker, one of the pallbearers at the funeral asked him. “Frankie is alive. He’s standing on my patio.”
Throughout the years, Frank Jr., would appear at Shanker’s doorstep. Unaware that his family and friends thought he had passed away, he casually rang the doorbell.
“Bill’s lucky he didn’t have a heart attack,” says Carole. “He quickly got my dad on the phone. Frankie said, ‘Hi Dad.’ ”
The following day, the Kerrigans were reunited — and in shock.
“It’s kind of like our worst fear was realized. We lived through it and now he’s alive, which is amazing,” says Carole. “We have another chance. He’s walking this earth. There is hope and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Yet it doesn’t erase the situation, she says.
“We have a body in a grave and we don’t know what to do,” she says. “It’s now become a desecrated place. That’s one of the hardest things. I went to see my mom at her grave yesterday and I looked over and there is some random person two feet away from her.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is conducting an investigation into the misidentification, they said in a statement to PEOPLE.
“The department extends regrets to the family of Frank M. Kerrigan, 57, for any emotional stress caused as a result of this unfortunate incident,” part of the statement read. “As part of the internal investigation, this incident and all identification policies and procedures will be reviewed to ensure no future misidentifications occur.”
They’re also attempting to locate and notify the family of the man who is actually deceased, so they will not be releasing his name at this time.
“Until his family can be found or all efforts are exhausted, his body will remain interred at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery,” the statement read.
They declined PEOPLE’s request for further comment.
Carole says that when her family told police Frank Jr. was alive, they ran the fingerprints again and on June 1, they discovered they were a match for someone else.
While she says the whole situation is a miracle, it doesn’t change the “weirdness” surrounding her family, and their desire to find out how this could have happened. Carole says the family plans to file a lawsuit.
“We need answers and we want to know what went on. How could this happen in this day in age?” she says. “It’s a horror show. We can’t believe this has happened. I’m still grieving a death that now doesn’t exist. It’s bizarre and very difficult to process.”