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NEW: Mortuary blames former employees for mix-up

Posted: 10:22 PM, Sep 17, 2015
Updated: 2015-09-17 23:22:07-04

On Thursday, Springfield Mortuary issued a statement in regard to a 41 Action News Investigation that revealed three bodies were swapped at the facility last year.

Brian Simmons, owner of the Springfield Mortuary, issued the statement on company letterhead. Within the first paragraph he only addresses the mix-up of two bodies and blames the incident on former employees.

"The staff that apparently allowed these errors to occur under their watch are no longer employed by us," Simmons says in the statement.

The statement does not mention if any employees were terminated as a direct result.

FULL STATEMENT

Statement sent on Sept. 17, 2015

Simmons says that when the mortuary learned of the errors--although he doesn't specify when that was--it contacted the funeral homes that had picked up the bodies for burial. Simmons also says that the mortuary had been in contact with the families involved prior to any reporting.

The burials in question involved the bodies of:

  • Catherine Rummerfield
  • Celia Atchison
  • Debra Lemmon

READ MORE  ‘Somebody needs to be held accountable:' 2 bodies exhumed after body mix-up at MO mortuary

"We had become aware of these issues, before the reporting, and had been working with the families regarding concerns as to identification of buried persons," Simmons writes.

However, 41 Action News investigators took this information to both Rummerfield and Atchison's families.

Rummerfield’s daughter, Linda Schwanz, said it was the first she’s heard of the situation. That was in August. To this day, she said she hasn’t been contacted by Simmons or anyone at the mortuary.

"He's lying," Rummerfield said. "He has never talked to me at all. I've never talked to that man."

Joanita Long, Lemmon's sister-in-law, said she heard about the mix-up for the same whistleblower 41 Action News spoke with. She said it wasn’t until after an investigation began that Simmons contacted her. Long said that Simmons called her the day before the exhumation of her sister-in-law’s grave.

She said he told her he might have cremated Lemmon by mistake, to which she told 41 Action News, "Now that he knows what they're going to find out with the DNA testing, he knows he's going to be found out, so why not try and smooth it over."

Jack Lemmon, Lemmon's husband, said the first time he talked to Simmons was the day his wife's casket was exhumed.

Lynne Yaggy, Atchison's next-of-kin, didn't want to be interviewed initially. However, she contacted the 41 Action News investigators on Thursday after the initial story aired. While she was Atchison's neighbor, she said they were more like family, adding that Atchison referred to Yaggy as her daughter.

Yaggy said the first time she spoke with Simmons was on Saturday and that she reached out to him. She also said that if it weren't for the 41 Action News investigation, "none of us would've known or been the wiser."

41 Action News investigators reached out to Springfield Mortuary on Thursday to question that part of the statement but was told Simmons wasn't available.  

Simmons issued an apology to the families in his statement.

"We cannot express how apologetic we are to the families, that the bodies buried in their loved ones graves were not who they were originally identified to be."

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Jessica McMaster can be reached at jessica.mcmaster@kshb.com

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