Anchorage, Alaska: An Alaska couple who had been told by police that their son had died in a car crash was stunned when they went to inform his girlfriend and their son opened the door.
Karen Priest said her husband, Jay, started sobbing, and she was in shock.
“There are no words,” she said on Friday. “We just kept staring at him.”
Justin Priest, 29, said he'd gotten up to let out his puppy at 5:30 a.m. when his parents and brother knocked. They started screaming when he opened the door.
The Priests had been awakened at 3 a.m. Thursday by a knock on the door. An Alaska State Trooper informed them that Justin had died.
The trooper gave them a Juneau police phone number. When the couple called, an officer said Justin's car had crashed into a tree at high speed. That didn't sound like Justin, Karen said.
They started calling out-of-state relatives. The Priests went to tell another son, Cody, who collapsed when he heard the news, Karen said.
The parents and Cody drove to find Justin's long-time girlfriend, Julia, so she could hear the news in person. Jay knocked on the door.
“It opens, and right here is Justin. I don't even see it, but Jay is sobbing. It doesn't compute to me. Then I see him,” Karen said. “You want it to be true, but you go, ‘Am I hallucinating?' Justin didn't know what was going on.”
“I didn't know why they were yelling and screaming,” Justin Priest said. “I was mostly asleep. They were yelling, ‘Praise Jesus! It's a miracle!”'
After “lots of hugging, lots of tears,” he called Juneau police to tell them they had identified the wrong Justin Priest.
Juneau police have apologized for the anguish the mistake caused and are reviewing audio tapes and other records to find out what went wrong.
“I'm almost speechless for words,” Chief Bryce Johnson said. “This shouldn't happen.”
Police had wanted troopers to contact the Priest family to find out if the crash victim was their son. The request was unclearly transmitted or misinterpreted, Johnson said, and the officer took the assignment as a death notification.
“We have to take responsibility for that,” Johnson said. “It was our case.”
Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said the message they received was for a death notification.