A Brooklyn family is suing a funeral home for not properly taking care of a woman’s body, claiming that a maggot came out of one of the deceased woman’s eyes during the open casket service.
Regina Christophe, 37, a nurse and a mother of two boys, died in her sleep on 24 June. Her family argues that the McManus Funeral Home in Brooklyn, New York, didn’t take care of her remains after they received the body from the medical examiner on 28 June, four days after her death.
“Her face looked like it was caved in,” mother Chantel Jean told ABC7 of the 9 July funeral. “Actually, looks like it was burned as fake skin was like melting off her face, one eye maggot came out of her eye.”
“The last image I saw was a monster in the casket,” she added. The mother said she didn’t see her daughter’s body for two weeks.
“They told me I couldn’t see her the first time because she was naked,” she said. “I said okay. The second time, didn’t have her make up on.”
She first saw it on the day of the funeral, when dozens of family members had travelled to Brooklyn from Florida.
“The people that were supposed to be there to celebrate her life left,” Ms Jean said. “The way the body looked in the casket and the stench.”
Family lawyer Kurt Robertson told the local station that “clearly it was not a dignified funeral”.
“The family took photos of Regina immediately as she passed when the examiner took her,” Mr Robertson added. “The medical examiner only had her for two days, when the family spoke with the funeral home after the fact, there was no mention of any state of decomposition or anything like that.”
“We feel sincere sympathy for the family and understand their grief,” the McManus Funeral Home told ABC7 in a statement. “The family contacted us four days after her passing, and at their request, services were scheduled another 11 days later. This was an extremely difficult case, and we used our best efforts to prepare her for the time requested by the family, and advised them of her condition prior to the day of services.”
The family requested a funeral date two weeks after Ms Christophe’s death to allow family members to make the trip to Brooklyn to take part.
Ms Jean told CBS New York that her daughter was so unrecognizable that the casket was removed from the room.
“It was very decomposed. It was a bad stench,” she told the station. “Her dress was filthy. They put a whole bunch of makeup all over the white dress. They had a garbage bag around her neck, a black one. They had two bags around her feet, you know, as if to say she was garbage.”
Mr Robertson told CBS that “the family made repeated attempts to see the body before the actual funeral and they were denied access until the day of”.
According to the family, the funeral director wasn’t present, but a receptionist at the facility “came over and covered it, and took the extra cloth that was hanging over the casket and covered her face with it”, cousin Stephanie Puzo told CBS. A family member and the staffer removed the casket.
Violette Dure told the network that “when I got home, I couldn’t even stand”.
“Starting that Sunday, I was sick like a dog. We in the Haitian community, the dead are sacred,” she said.
The medical examiner told CBS that the body was ready to be picked up the day after they received it. The family has said that the funeral home took several days before collecting the remains.
Funeral director Anthony Tenga was asked by CBS why the body was in a bad condition at the memorial service.
“I think there was a lot of factors, the heat factor, the date from the date of death to the date the family came in to the day she was removed to the viewing. It’s days and days,” he said.
Mr Tenga said there wasn’t any breakdown in communication among his staff and that “she was embalmed. She was refrigerated, kept in what’s called a cold room”.
“I don’t know what to tell you. Tell her I’ll always pray for her and love her,” an emotional Mr Tenga told CBS when asked for a message for Ms Christophe’s mother. “I want forgiveness first and I need it, and if she doesn’t give it to me I’m fine with it. But am I sorry? With all my heart, I’m sorry.”
The station also reported that Mr Tenga attempted to apologize in person, but that Ms Jean didn’t want to speak to him.
“The day of the funeral is when I tried to call him and the receptionist, he went in the back to talk to him and he came back. He said, ‘Anthony doesn’t know what I’m talking about,’” Ms Jean said.
The family paid $6,000 in funeral costs, according to CBS. The legal filing was submitted last week.