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Medical examiner mistakenly tells woman her daughter was dead

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PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. -- When a chaplain came to Laura Baker's front door Monday to tell her that her daughter had been killed, she was devastated.

"This has been the worst three days of my life," Baker told CBS Seattle affiliate KIRO-TV. "I told her 7-year-old daughter that she was dead."

The problem was Baker's daughter, Samantha Kennedy, was still alive. Baker was told her she had been hit and killed by a car in Span away, Wash., Friday. A Joint Base Lewis McChord sergeant is under investigation for vehicular homicide in connection with the incident. The victim had no identification and was taken to the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office as a Jane Doe.

Friends of Kennedy, 24, feared she was the victim of the crash because she had been missing for several days. They contacted Tacoma General Hospital, where the victim was first taken, who then contacted the medical examiner's office with information about a tattoo Kennedy had gotten, hoping it could be used to help identify her.

In a statement the medical examiner's office said, "It was assumed the described tattoo belonged to the missing person, but it actually was a description of the tattoo on the body. The medical examiner then identified the victim as Samantha Kennedy."

Baker said after she was told her daughter was dead she asked the medical examiner's office to allow her to see the body to make a positive identification but was turned away.

"They wouldn't let me; they said it was a biohazard," she said.

As she waited to take custody of her daughter's body, Baker prepared for a funeral.

"You know I've contacted all my family," she said. "I had to call her brother. I had to call everybody and tell them Samantha got killed Friday, and it wasn't her."

Baker said the family had the remains moved to a funeral home Tuesday and were then told Wednesday morning about the mistaken identification. She was told the body would be returned to the medical examiner's office, but Baker rushed to the funeral home, determined to see for herself whether or not the body was that of her daughter.

"My sister went in with me holding my hand, and we both screamed at the same time, 'It's not her!'" Baker said.

The woman killed in the crash has since been identified as Jade Nicole Aubrey-Peterson, 25, of Pierce County. Kennedy is still missing.

Baker said she's furious her family has endured days of grief and questions when a positive identification could have been made if she had been allowed to see the body herself.

"How," asked Baker, "can you go around telling people their kid is dead without proof?"

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