Lori Baker, a store cashier from Puyallup, Wash., has had little contact with her estranged 24-year-old daughter since she was a teenager, but today, after a harrowing morgue mix-up, at least she knows she is still alive.
Baker was told Monday that her daughter Samantha Kennedy had been killed in an accident. But on Wednesday, after starting to make funeral arrangements and demanding to see the body, she was shocked and relieved to discover it was not her daughter.
Today, she told ABCNews.com that after a harrowing two days, she feels "wonderful" about the belated news.
"Yesterday was a whole whirlwind of emotions, until me and my sister saw her and screamed, 'It's not her,'" said Baker, 44.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner's office took responsibility for the mistake. They have now identified the woman who was killed as 25-year-old Jade Nicole Aubrey-Peterson and said her next of kin has been notified.
Medical Examiner Thomas Clark confirmed that on March 14 a woman was hit by a pickup truck while crossing a street in Spanaway, Wash. She was taken to the hospital and declared dead, but had no identification.
Due to "a misunderstanding involving several members of our staff" involving a tattoo, the medical examiner "identified the victim as Samantha Kennedy," Clark said in a statement.
The family that Kennedy was living with had sent a photo of Kennedy after they heard a woman had been killed on the highway near where they live, Baker said. The mistake must have occurred "somehow between the picture and the description of the tattoo from the hospital," she said.
When Baker returned from work on Monday, her husband had received a phone call. "I need you to sit down," she said he told her. "I was thinking one of my twins did something. He said Samantha was killed in a fatal accident."
Baker said she was not allowed to see the body right away because the medical examiner told her the body was a "bio-hazard."
"I needed to know if that was my kid," she said. "I didn't want to touch her, I just wanted to see her. The medical examiner said we had to have her sent to a funeral home where she would be prepped before she could be viewed."
Frantic, Baker sent out messages on Kennedy's Facebook page to alert friends that she had died. But Tuesday night, she received a message from one of her daughter's friends, saying, "She had just talked to Samantha."
"I cussed her out," said Baker. "What kind of a sick joke are you trying to pull on me? I didn't believe her. Cops don't just come to the door and do that."
By Wednesday, Baker and her sister were getting ready to go to the funeral home to see the body when a chaplain from the medical examiner's office appeared at the door. "He said, 'I really hate to do this, but there has been a mix-up and your daughter is alive.' I started yelling at him, 'You go around randomly telling people your kid is dead and you don't ID the body?'"
Baker said she then went to the funeral home to see for herself.
"It was such a relief," she said, when the body was not her daughter's. "All morning I had been hyperventilating and thought I would end up having a heart attack," she said. "I didn't want to get my hopes up that it was not my kid, then walk through the door and there she is."
Baker said when she finally realized the body did not belong to her daughter, her thoughts went to Jade Nicole Aubrey-Peterson and her parents. "I apologized to the poor girl lying on the table. I am so sorry her family doesn't know she is here. But I was so glad it was not my kid."
Mountain View Memorial Park in Lakewood, Wash., where the body was taken, offered condolences to both families.
"[A]s part of our routine protocol we confirm the identity of the deceased approximately three times between receiving the deceased and before burial or cremation," said Clarke Thomson, general manager. "Because of these protocols we were able to aid the family in identifying that the body delivered was not their daughter."
The medical examiner said in a prepared statement that his office was supporting both families and were, "reviewing the circumstances and will adjust our practices."
Clark said in the statement that "it is not uncommon" for accident victims to arrive at the hospital without identification. The office receives about 2,000 death notifications a year and has appropriate protocols to follow, he said.
"Those protocols include scientific methods, such as fingerprints, DNA and dental records, but those are not used unless necessary because they are time-consuming, expensive and create delays that are burdensome on families," Clark said. "In most cases, identification can be resolved by driver's licenses and family identification of distinctive features, such as tattoos.
Baker said she had last seen her daughter in October when they celebrated Baker's birthday. They had been estranged since her daughter was 16.
"She started running away and you can't keep someone in the house, so I let her go, hoping she would grow out it," said Baker. "She never did."
Kennedy's Facebook page says she lives in Takoma, Wash. Kennedy did not respond to requests for comment by ABCNews.com.
Baker said she will finally return to work after two days of agony. "I need to get back to normalcy after viewing that body," she said. "It's like I have almost cried, but haven't, because I am so relieved."
She said she hoped the frightening incident might bring them closer together and had reached out to Kennedy on Facebook. Baker has four other children, aged 7 to 20.
Since learning Kennedy was alive, Baker said she had tried to reach out, assuring her she did nothing wrong and that she was worried about her. "I just need to see her face," Baker said.
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