ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A grieving family has found some relief after coming forward with their story about a funeral home that refused to release the body of their slain loved one.
The bill they owed the funeral home was dramatically reduced, a victim's compensation board came through with an emergency payment, and they were able to hold a funeral.
Nearly nine months after his killing on Christmas Eve, Julian "Eddie" Myers was laid to rest at a cemetery in Palmer. It rained during the funeral.
"I felt like that was heaven mourning with us that day, you know, like tears falling from the sky because it was such an emotional event after nine months to be able to lay him to rest," Sharon Aubrey, Myers' sister, told KTUU.
Myers, an ironworker was shot and killed in his home. Prosecutors have charged his middle son, Mark, with his murder.
The funeral was needed closure, Aubrey said, for the other sons and the rest of the family.
"They couldn't stop him from dying, although they tried and now they could at least do what was left, and that was to bury him," Aubrey said.
KTUU first aired the family's story on Sept. 16. Myers' funeral was the following Friday, on Sept. 20.
While the criminal investigation into his death caused delays, the family says the conduct of Janssen Funeral Homes, which had received the body from the medical examiner, created unnecessary delays and caused the bill to increase.
The murder investigation delayed approval for beneficiaries, and executors for the estate. And since Janssen's would not release the body without payment upfront, storage costs accumulated.
The family also discovered other charges it hadn't approved, and by August, the bill had grown to nearly $18,000.
"If you are in business and you're are here to benefit the community, things like this aren't going to happen. This isn't like, just a little crack that Ed happened to fall into. This is a giant hole. And it's a hole that comes from having the wrong heart. It comes from not caring about your customer as much as you cared about your bottom line," Aubrey said.
Scott Janssen, the owner of Janssen Funeral Homes, has previously told KTUU in a phone call that compassionate service is a top priority, and strongly disputes the family's representation of what happened.
During August, the funeral home made some concessions, agreeing to reduce the bill if the bill could be paid within 14 days.
For the family, it remained an out-of-reach solution.
They needed the death benefits to come in before they could pay.
"There were plenty of ways to bury my brother, knowing he has an estate and recoup those costs in a timely manner. It didn't have to be this difficult," Aubrey told KTUU.
Aubrey started speaking out after she discovered an Alaska law that prohibits a funeral home from holding a body for money owed, and soon after, shared her story with KTUU.
"If it had not been for KTUU's story, I am convinced that Ed would not be buried today, and I would not be surprised if the funeral home kept dragging out the process and even threatening to just dispose of his body," Aubrey said.
Janssen told KTUU his staff would never say such a thing, and did not say such a thing. The Myers family is adamant the threat was made, saying a representative of the funeral home told them if they didn't pay the body would be considered abandoned and would be disposed of.
Janssen has declined our requests for comment.
After our story aired, Myers' family told us the funeral home worked swiftly to resolve the situation. They reduced the bill to $3,500, dropped the requirement for payment up-front, and released the body.
"They had nine months to make it right, and if you hadn't helped us out to just get the word out that this was even happening. And the District Attorney, who knows how long this would have continued," Aubrey said.
The state's victim's compensation board, which helps crime victims with some expenses, also saw the story and moved to release emergency funding to immediately take care of the outstanding funeral home bill.
For Myers' mother, Dianne Myers, being able to bury her son is an act of closure she wishes she didn't have to fight so hard for, but is thankful it finally happened.
"I have had more weight lifted off of me just knowing that he is at rest," Myers said.
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