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."