Family Notification

The most unpleasant task in a death investigation is probably notifying a family of a sudden, unexpected death. It is often an investigator's responsibility. There is no easy way to accomplish this task. Family reaction to this news is based upon many different things: cultural norms, recent family closeness, guilt, and a subject's place within the family structure. It is important that the family be notified of the death only when an investigator is absolutely positive of the identification of the victim. If the identification is not solidly based on scientific evidence (dental exam, fingerprints, or radiographic comparison), then caution must be exercised in declaring the positive identification. When subjects are in the state of decomposition, thermally injured, or physically mutilated, the investigator should resist the temptation to accept personal papers or visual identification as the sole source of identification information. If a body is misidentified, then two identification errors have been made: a suspected dead person may be alive and a suspected living person is dead.

The decedent must be positively identified before the name is released to the news media. The next-of-kin must be notified prior to releasing the name to the media.

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