CASTLE ROCK, Wash. – A man's family says his final wish was denied because of a mix-up, and they only realized it when they opened his casket at the funeral and saw the wrong man.
"I pray to God they didn't cremate him, and turns out that's exactly what happened," said the man's stepson.
No one is sure how it happened. Even the funeral home admits things aren't clear right now.
According to the family, Jerry Moon died at a Longview hospice care center and was taken to a funeral home in Chehalis. At some point his body was mixed up with another man who died at the same hospice center the same night.
After a beautiful memorial service Moon’s stepson, Jerry Johnson, opened the casket and saw the wrong face.
"My sister came right up to me and said, 'Jerry, that's not him.' And I said, 'Tami, it's him you know.' And so I went over and looked. And I said, 'That's not even close! This is some 90-year-old man in here," Johnson said.
Moon was 72 years old.
Eventually, the funeral director called. Moon had been cremated by mistake.
"He stressed to all of his kids, to everybody: he wanted to be – he did not want his body burned," said Johnson.
He also didn't want his family burdened. It's why Moon paid for much of his own funeral a decade ago.
A representative for Brown Mortuary in Chehalis called the mix-up extremely rare and sent the following statement:
"We believe we have the very best training in the industry and that our policies and procedures are outstanding. However, from time to time we do make a mistake. When that happens, our policy is one of full disclosure to the family and we work with them to come to an accord."
But family said they haven't talked much with the funeral home. They'll leave that up to state investigators and their lawyer, for now.
"Even if we sued, I'd give every bit of it back if we could magically change this," Johnson said. "Our whole family will never stop thinking about it – ever."
The family hopes investigators will help them verify the ashes they have now actually belong to Jerry Moon. Then they hope to bury those ashes where he wanted to be buried.
The hospice center CEO told KATU News they looked over their procedures and found everything was followed appropriately.
A spokeswoman with the Washington State Department of Licensing said the agency immediately opened an investigation after being contacted by Moon's family.
"We will be looking at two funeral homes, Brown Mortuary Services in Chehalis and Dahl-McVicker Funeral in Longview," said state spokeswoman Christine Anthony. "We understand this is a terrible situation for the families involved and we will be working as quickly as possible to determine exactly what happened."
Anthony said the funeral homes could face fines, suspensions or have licenses revoked if they are found to have violated state rules.
"This type of situation is, thankfully, very rare," Anthony said. "We don’t have statistics, but believe we only deal with a complaint like this every five to 10 years, on average."