Family: 'They opened the casket and it was not him'

CHEHALIS, Wash. - One thing is certain: the body in the casket was not Jerry Moon.

Beyond that, there are more questions than answers.

Moon's family members asked that his casket be opened at his funeral service Monday in Chehalis, Wash., so they could see him one last time. What they saw was someone else's body in Moon's clothes.

In the words of Moon's sister, Gayle Stevens, "All I can tell you is they opened the casket and it was not him."

The 72-year-old Castle Rock man died Oct. 13 at a Longview hospice. A Kelso funeral home picked up the body that day while a Chehalis mortuary handled the funeral.

Moon's son, Brian Moon, says his family now has ashes that may be his father's but is waiting for confirmation. He says his father never wanted to be cremated.

"I pray to God they didn't cremate him, and turns out that's exactly what happened," said the man's stepson, Jerry Johnson.

No one is sure how it happened. Even the funeral home admits things aren't clear right now. 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 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.

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.

The Department of Licensing says they immediately opened an investigation both Brown's Mortuary and Dahl-McVicker.

"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," said Christine Anthony, a DOL spokesperson. "Situations like this can result in disciplinary action against funeral homes and any funeral home staff found to have been involved. Typical sanctions can include fines, suspensions, or even license revocations."