Death and Laxness

Family horrified at funeral home's gruesome handling of body

Vicente Gurrola's shattered body lay by the roadside on 35th Avenue as a white Toyota pickup sped away shortly after 1 a.m. on Sunday, May 16.

His back broken, the 33-year-old landscaper died on the street before rescue workers arrived. His body was sent to the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office where an autopsy was performed, and his survivors were notified of his death.

Later that day, at the family's request, his body was transported to Harvey Funeral Chapel, 1505 East McDowell, to be prepared for shipment back home to his grieving parents in Mexico.

The wrenching news of Gurrola's death at the hands of a hit-and-run driver was just the beginning of a gruesome week for his loved ones. They say their suffering was aggravated immeasurably by a series of callous and devious actions by the Reverend Anthony B. Harvey, director of the Harvey Funeral Chapel, a man who already has been cited and now is under investigation by state officials for other alleged grisly and cold-hearted acts toward grieving families.

The Family's Story
Gurrola's cousin, Maxine Ramirez, says she arrived at the Harvey Funeral Chapel shortly before 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, May 19. She joined about a dozen of Gurrola's friends and relatives there hoping to view Gurrola's body before it was to be transported to Sky Harbor Airport at 10 a.m. The body was to be put on an AeroMexico flight to Mexico City, then to Durango, where full funeral services were planned.

Ramirez, the only person in the contingent who speaks English, says she was surprised to see everyone gathered outside the chapel when she arrived. She says Harvey told them the funeral home was preparing the body to be shipped, so there wouldn't be a chance for the family to see it.

But the family pressed Harvey, offering $200 to view the body before it was sent to the airport.

Ramirez says Harvey agreed to a limited viewing for family members.
"They were told it would have to be very fast--they would only have five minutes," Ramirez says.

Gathered in the chapel's foyer, the survivors waited while Harvey went to retrieve the body. Moments later, he returned with a neatly dressed and groomed body of a young Hispanic male.

The family was aghast.
"Esta no es!" Gurrola's sister screamed.
It was the wrong body.

Harvey quickly removed the cadaver and returned with Gurrola's body a few minutes later.

"That body had just a sheet up to the neck," Ramirez says.
The sister approached the body and pulled back the sheet to look at his shoulders to discover a revolting sight.

"Tienes sangre!" she shrieked before fainting and falling to the floor as Harvey stood by and watched.

"I started thinking to myself, oh my God, there's blood," Ramirez says. "This body is not even cleaned up."

There was blood on his shoulder, on the sheet and on his feet, Ramirez says.
The group whisked the sister outside to revive her. By the time she regained consciousness, Gurrola's body had been removed from the foyer. A few minutes later, Ramirez says, Harvey loaded a cardboard box into a hearse and told the family it held Gurrola's remains.

Ramirez says she asked Harvey if the family could look inside the box to make sure it was Gurrola, but Harvey refused, saying he couldn't open the container once it was sealed.

"Then the hearse drove away with the body," Ramirez says. "We thought the deceased was taken to the airport."

Ramirez returned to work, but the unnerving events of the morning haunted her throughout the day.

"I thought I was going crazy," she says. "The more I sat here and thought about it and thought about it, I was becoming a nervous wreck. I couldn't even work."

To ease her mind, she says, she called the Harvey Funeral Chapel to get flight information for Gurrola's body. What she learned left her in a rage.

"The receptionist stated that Gurrola's body was still there," she said. "It would be shipped the next day at 10 a.m."

The family already had made arrangements for Gurrola's body to be picked up at the airport in Mexico that day. But the body would still be in Arizona.

Ramirez says she called Gurrola's brother. They immediately went to the funeral home and demanded to see Gurrola's body. Ramirez says Harvey was shocked to see them back at the funeral home.

She says Harvey told them that the receptionist was mistaken and that Gurrola's body was at the airport. It had missed the plane because of time lost while the family was viewing the body that morning, she says she was told.

Ramirez says Harvey called someone and instructed that person to bring the body back to the funeral home. In the meantime, the family decided it wanted a formal viewing and ceremony.

"I told him we wanted to have a ceremony here," Ramirez says. "He [Harvey] says we can't."

Ramirez says Harvey told the family they would have to buy a casket for a ceremony at the funeral home. Gurrola's brother agreed to purchase a casket for $1,856.26.

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