Body misidentified as student

University of Alabama student Marcus Jeremy Smith's body was positively identified Sunday near the rubble of his apartment after a three-day ordeal in which another body had at first been mistaken for Smith's.

Conformation of Smith's death brought the number of UA students killed by the April 27 tornado to six. Smith's family was notified twice of his death, first in a telephone call from a University official last Wednesday, only later to be told it was not his body, according to University professor Bernard Scheiner.

“A [University official] called and talked to his mother and said that he was dead. He may be dead, but the body was not his,” University of Alabama Professor Bernard Scheiner said Friday.

While family members have acknowledged that there was, in fact, a mistake, Tuesday they emphasized that University officials went “above and beyond” to help rectify it.

“The University of Alabama extends our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Marcus Smith,” University spokeswoman Deborah M. Lane said in statement released Tuesday. “We deeply regret the confusion that surrounded communications with the family in the immediate and chaotic aftermath of the storm.”

Early afternoon Thursday, The Crimson White wrongly included Marcus Smith’s name on a list of deceased students. Though The CW received that information from multiple sources, the name was published without absolute verification. A clarification was included as an editor’s note on an updated list late Thursday afternoon on The Crimson White’s website where the name was initially published.

The way the official told the parents their son’s body had been discovered was unprofessional and inexcusable, said Scheiner, who also attends the Church of Christ at Northwood—where Smith was a member until his death.

“This [official] has caused great problems in the family,” he said. “And now, if it turns out that they may find the body, they’ve got to go through this again. There’s a glimmer of hope; it’s small, but it’s hope.”

Family members said Monday the ordeal was a terrible situation, but had the University not done “everything [the family members] could wish for,” Smith’s body might still be missing.

Friday, Scheiner asserted his stance that University officials should not be allowed to call parents without absolute verification.

“This is beyond repair,” he said. “I know Marcus very well. I’ve had him in my home, shared many meals with him. His parents had to come down from Virginia. His father and his brother and his fiancé, her brother and a member of this congregation went to every morgue trying to find the body … In this particular case, this [person]—I don’t know … why [it happened]—but a grievous error [was made] in calling the parent. The police don’t do that, they come to your door to tell you. Get on the phone and call a woman? Tell her ‘your son was killed’? … The way that [it happened] was wrong,” Scheiner said.

Smith’s mother collapsed upon being told her son’s body was discovered amidst the rubble of his apartment, and she was subsequently taken to the emergency room.

“Can you imagine the grieving of a mother?” Scheiner asked. “And now they tell her that wasn’t him?”

Family members responded by saying, after the tornado, the University was dealing with a situation that was nothing but chaotic.

Throughout the search, which ended with the discovery of Smith’s body in the early evening hours Sunday, Smith’s friends said they hadn’t given up hope that he might be found alive.

“A lot of people are saying that they are waiting on him to come home and that they want him to be OK,” Amanda Wildman, another member of Smith’s church, said Friday. “A lot of people are saying that they know that he is not dead but just missing.”

After Smith’s body was correctly identified Sunday, the family continued to emphasize that their concern is not the mistake that was made, but rather the fact that Smith is gone, and they miss him deeply.

A reason for the misidentification has not been confirmed, and The Crimson White had yet to ascertain the identity of the body that was initially believed to be Marcus Smith.

 

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