Family outraged after finding mother on gurney in funeral home garage

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REED CITY, Mich.-- A man from Detroit is furious after finding his deceased mother on a gurney in the garage of a Reed City funeral home.

Mark Smith recorded a video of the discovery, but the funeral director says the video isn't the whole truth.

John McDowell, the owner of McDowell Funeral Home in Reed City, says the biggest point he wants to get across is that this was all the result of circumstance, combined with some irony and bad timing.

He also says the video is a form of slander, and that it's ruining his reputation.

"It’s harming my reputation and I’ve got a good reputation, you have to understand though, I’m distressed too," McDowell said.

McDowell says Noreen Smith's body was dropped off to his funeral home Friday, Sept. 11 after her death at a local Reed City hotel.

Both local EMS and McDowell told FOX 17 that they tried reaching out to Smith's family, but heard nothing until Monday, which is when McDowell says Smith's family showed up unexpectedly.

That's when Noreen Smith's son, Mark, found his mother on a gurney in the funeral home's garage. Outraged, Mark filmed what he saw, along with his confrontation with the funeral home's owner.

McDowell explained to Smith that his mother was only in the garage for a short period of time, as part of an attempt to keep her cool.

"As opposed to metropolitan areas funeral homes up here don’t have refrigeration, hospitals don’t have refrigeration, we were just asked by ambulance service to temporarily shelter the body," McDowell said.

Local EMS officials say once they turn the body over to the funeral home, the storage of the body is out of their control.

"Our job is to investigate the scene to determine if there’s suspicious activity, or if it’s from natural causes. From that point, we kind of pass that care off to either autopsy or funeral home," said Joel Yonkman, the Assistant Director at Reed City EMS.

McDowell tells FOX 17 it took three days for the Smiths to contact him after Noreen's passing, adding that he can't legally embalm a body without the family's authorization, which is why he had to keep her body cool.

"An important part of this is that family members follow up quickly because again, it's all about timing," Yonkman said.

McDowell is now hoping that timing doesn't ruin the reputation of his family-owned funeral home that's served local families for over 100 years.

McDowell tells FOX 17 Noreen Smith's cause of death is still pending, and he's waiting to hear back from the toxicology lab for results, adding that the Smith family plans to make funeral arrangements in Detroit, who have yet to retrieve Smith's body.

FOX 17 tried contacting the Smith family, but were unable to reach them.

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20 comments

  • Kesh

    The son Facebook name is Hedrick Lord Kash on Facebook, he is the one that posted the video and recored it maybe you all can reach out to him on there. I think this is so wrong and that family needs justice

    • tammy

      They sound like losers looking for some free money..if they cared about their mother then why was she at the reed city rat motel..go back to Detroit..reed city doesn’t need your type

      • Latoya Solomon

        You guys are posting all these horrible comments, about these kids! First of all they are all under 25! Doing the best they can for their mom in a tragic situation! Secondly no one is out for money, they just want their mom treated with dignity! Stop Judging folks when you don’t know the situation!!!!!

    • Sherry Mead

      With such “concern” for his mother, I am wondering first of all why it took three days to acknowledge her body and second of all, this was posted Sept. 16, stating her death occurred the 11th and she is still in Reed City? I would never treat my mother this way. Wouldn’t most of us have made the 3-4 hour drive the day our mother passed, and made immediate arrangements for transportation of the body? Shame on them. This is NOT Detroit, things in the North are handled a bit differently I guess.

    • PW

      Kesh, it sounds like a tragic situation. But you need to remember that the Body of the mother was pretty much dropped off at the funeral home on short notice, and they are LEGALLY precluded from doin any kind of embalming without the OK of the family. That funeral home has a great reputation, run by good people, but just does not have a large storage capacity(it’s a local funeral home, designed to handle small numbers NOT on short notice). They quite simply are doing the best they can given the constrictions on them legally.

    • CJ Martinez

      By justice, you mean what? You do realize that this body was dumped on the funeral home, right? And the funeral home has said it had no refrigeration? So, if he keeps her in his prep room, which is considerably warmer than the garage….well, it starts to stink. Yep. I’ve been a funeral director for over 20 years, and a body starts to decompose pretty quickly unless it’s under refrigeration. So, the funeral director is in a “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” type situation. If you think the family is mad now, how you think they’d react if they walked in the prep room to identify mom with her in some stage of decomp? The blame does not fall on the director, but on the coroner. Unclaimed bodies (which is what she was) belongs to the municipality of death. The only mistake the funeral home made was accepting her remains.

  • Chasidy

    What did the family want the funeral home to do with her. They should have came sooner than 3 days. The funeral home just trying to keep her body cold. only so much they can do according to the law.

  • marilyn stanley

    So this man trespassed on the property of the funeral home? Why would he have gone into the garage? Let us hear some more about the history of the Smith family.

  • salina Jennings

    Who thinks about money at a time like this smh..none of you know anything about my family except my aunt died in a hotel in reed city ( where more of my family lives)…who in the hell would choose to leave a family member in a garage??? Shes was at a funeral home where she should have been refrigerated…and it takes time and money to have other funeral homes hours away to pick her up…i swear i hate people….

    • Sma

      Sorry for your loss, but in all due respect there wasn’t much he could do. His funeral home didn’t have refrigerators, she was there for 3 days. It’s a bad situation both ways.

    • kelly

      If she died at the hotel, where other relatives live, than why would it have taken 3 days for the family to identify her body? Doesn’t make sense.

  • Michael Neddo

    – It is not a requirement that a funeral home have refrigeration so don’t assume that is an option.
    – Embalming without consent of the next of kin is termed “mutilation of a corpse”. You think “body in a garage” is bad, try defending against that one.
    – There are public spaces in a funeral home and private spaces. Out of respect for all the dead in a funeral home, you should remain in the public spaces, not chose to go into them instead.
    – Three days to contact the funeral home? That is unacceptable.
    – As a funeral director for over 20 years, I can attest to the validity of the funeral home owner’s comments in this case. He did what he had to do because the family did not care enough to reach out before three days passed. That says a whole lot more than blaming someone for using the coolest part of their building because they have to.
    – Notice BOTH EMS and the funeral home attempted to contact the family and both were unsuccessful. This isnt an owner trying to make an excuse.

    Now, there is a business built in 100 years of service and trust suffering because a family could not be reached, it took three days for the family to finally reach out, the family just shows up and starts going into private areas of the funeral home, the “evidence” is videotaped as is the confrontation, and though money isn’t thought about “at a time like this”, money must be an issue because it is what is preventing the family from transporting the deceased back to Detroit. So money IS an issue, and a big one. Why do you think the family is not stopping at an apology and an explanation about what happened? Because apologies and explanations don’t buy things.
    100 years and countless lives positively impacted by the trust and concern of this business now endangered by three days, bad choices by a family, and greed.
    Were it not for the fact that this all happened because the family chose to wait so long to make themselves known, this would be tragic. The tragedy here is the lack of personal responsibility by those crying foul.

  • Michael Stinson

    Salina Jennings sorry for your lost but the Funeral Home has done nothing wrong …Its just the state has laws and I filk the Funeral Home has followed the law …

  • The Undertaker

    All Funeral Homes should have some kind of cooler to keep remains in till the family can decide what they want for there loved one, We always keep the remains in our cooler till we get a permission signed to Embalm or cremate. Besides, Dignity is a low end Funeral Home, Use a family owned funeral home next time. Dignity only wants money, Not caring for family’s is there biggest down fall.