Lisa Kondvar Rhode Island was stunned to see that the woman lying in the casket at her mothers wake, was a complete stranger.
The crying stopped, and the relatives departed, it was the wrong body in the casket.
Porkka, 82, was pronounced dead at St. Maarten Medical Center on November 29, the morning after Thanksgiving.
Kondvar said her family was told their mother’s body had been taken to Emerald Funeral Home in St. Maarten, where the funeral director denied their request to see their mother and demanded a $7,000 wire-transfer-only fee to send the body back to the United States.
This made Kondvar suspicious according to CNN. When she heard ‘wire tranfer’ it set off alarm bells
Not knowing of any other alternatives, the family desperate for their mother, wired the money and all neccesary information, including her passport. They also sent clothes to dress their deceased mother and the data for a death certificate.
The body that arrived in a casket at the New Jersey funeral home on December 6 was not her mother, Kondvar said. But the body was dressed in Porkka’s clothing and was accompanied by her passport and death certificate. The casket also had a small, red-velvet pouch containing jewelry and items that Kondvar said did not belong to her mother.
According to the relatives the body even included a tag that said “angina” and their mom never had the ailment
The Kondvar’s want answers, and they want their mother back.
Repeated calls to St. Maarten Medical Center and Emerald Funeral Home over the weekend were not returned. Kondvar said she hasn’t heard from the hospital or the funeral home since leaving St. Maarten.
Kondvar has contacted U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, for help. Reed, a personal friend of Kondvar, has been in touch with the U.S. consulate in St. Maarten and is closely monitoring the situation, according to Reed’s spokesman, Chip Unruh.
According to Kondvar, Emerald Funeral Home in St. Maarten was supposed to notify the U.S. consulate of Porkka’s death so the office could arrange for the body to be accompanied back to America. That never happened, Kondvar said.
As if the situation weren’t already complicated, there’s reason to believe that somehow her mother’s body was mistakenly sent to a family in Canada and cremated, Kondvar told CNN.
“If it is mom up in Canada, we want her back. We certainly don’t hold anything against this family because they’re in grief,” she said. “I can’t even imagine what they’re going through.”
Unruh said Reed has expedited a DNA test to determine whether the body that was sent to Canada is in fact Kondvar’s mother.
“It’s a nightmare,” Unruh said.
The government of St. Maarten issued a statement on its website explaining some of what happened.
Two women, one Canadian and one American, died on November 29 and were taken to the same funeral home, it said. The government honored the families’ requests to send the bodies to their respective homes, and the deceased women were flown to the United States on the same airline.
“Upon collection of the deceased the next of kin of both deceased persons claimed that this was not the body of their respective relatives and have lodged a complaint with the local law enforcement authorities. The body that was flown to Canada has since been cremated,” the government website said.
DNA analyses “will be carried out in order to verify conclusively the identity of both bodies. As soon as there is more information available it will be made available through the representatives of the respective Governments, the families of the deceased and the respective media outlets,” the government statement said.
As Porkka’s family awaits the test results, Kondvar said she has a terrible, gut feeling the body in Canada is not her mother’s.
“If it’s not her, I don’t know where that leaves us,” she said.
Kondvar told CNN the St. Maarten government is performing an internal investigation into what went wrong. But Kondvar is wary. She’s been in touch with the State Department and wants to hire an international attorney to lead her own investigation.
“I want an outside investigation. I don’t trust that government. They’ve hurt my family,” she said.
Kondvar, a resident of Warwick, said she’s not sure whether she will ever return to St. Maarten, although she has fond memories of the island and the residents from her family vacations.
“(My mother) loved St. Maarten. That’s why it brings me some kind of peace, is that she died in paradise,” Kondvar said.