NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It was a horrifying case of mistaken identity. A family held a funeral for their mother, but found out that they cremated the wrong body because of a mistake made by the funeral home that they trusted.

Leroy and Errol McDonald were heartbroken when their 81-year-old mother Valjean McDonald died of lung cancer in December.

“We had a funeral. It wasn’t our mother in there,” Leroy said.

As CBS2’s Brian Conybeare reported, they had an open casket service at the Union Baptist Church on West 145th Street in Harlem with hundreds of people, some coming from as far away as Australia.

“All across the world people came to say goodbye to my mom and unfortunately it wasn’t my mom,” Leroy said.

It turns out that McCall’s Bronxwood Funeral Home in the Bronx made a terrible mistake. They sent the wrong woman’s body to the funeral service and eventually had it cremated at Woodlawn Cemetery.

During the service a 10-year-old grandson noticed that something wasn’t right, he spoke up as only a child can.

“When I was up there looking at the woman, my son came and tapped me and said, ‘daddy that don’t look like Grandma Val,” Errol McDonald said, “We didn’t realize that till afterwards because the woman looked so much like my mother. We figured after so long in the hospital that when you have stage 4 cancer that it would actually change you, like your appearance.”

CBS2 went to the funeral home to get the family some answers.

“I don’t have any comment,” funeral home owner James Alston said, “I’m referring you to the gentleman who can comment for you.”

A hired spokesman told CBS2 that, “(McCall’s) has been in business for 50 years and certainly nothing like this has ever happened before. We have expressed to the affected families our acute distress and sorrow over this occurrence, and we are reimbursing the McDonalds for all costs associated with the funeral.”

Two state agencies are investigating just how a licensed funeral home could make such a tragic mistake.

The McDonalds said they would like to meet the family of the woman they wound up cremating to share condolences and photos, but the funeral home refused to release the woman’s name.

 

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