Andre and Korisha Shipley were still mourning the death of their 17-year-old son, Jesse, when two months after his funeral, they received shocking news from students of the same Staten Island, New York, high school Jesse had attended. Members of a forensic science club on a field trip to the morgue couldn’t believe what they noticed on a cabinet in the medical examiner’s lab.
“They saw this jar with a brain in it labeled Jesse Shipley,” recalls Korisha Shipley, whose daughter Shannon came home in tears that day delivering the news. “They knew Jesse and he knew them. They were looking at his brain, and his brain was looking right back at them,” the father adds.
Jesse Shipley died in a car accident in January 2005, and the family members say that even though they agreed to an autopsy, they thought they were burying their son with all of his organs. To them, the cause of death was obvious – blunt trauma resulting from a car accident – so there was no reason for authorities to have kept the brain for further review.
The couple are now suing the city for the emotional distress caused by the handling of their son’s remains.
“As far as we understand, during an autopsy you cut open the body, you look for the cause of death, you check out the organs and you put them back in. In this case, it was a little more than that,” Andre Shipley says.
In a statement to CNN, the attorney representing the city wrote that although officials sympathize with the family, “it was within the Medical Examiner’s discretion to perform an autopsy, and in appropriate cases, to remove and retain bodily organs for further testing.”
Dr. Victor Weedn, a forensic pathologist and a spokesperson for the National Association of Medical Examiners, says determining cause of death is not as simple as people think. He says it is common practice for medical examiners in the U.S. to save the brain and certain other organs when they think it’s important.
“To say someone died of a motor vehicle accident, doesn’t really tell us anything,” Weedn explains. “For example, if a passenger in the backseat was epileptic, their fit could have distracted the driver and led to the death. So, from the outside it may not be so obvious why the person actually died.”
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