Part 5 of Special Report: Death at Naval Station Great Lakes
Exhuming 22-year-old Kyle Antonacci’s casket, five months after his funeral, was a horrifying experience for his parents Lisa and Al.
“The whole experience was a nightmare, just a nightmare,” Al recalled. But the Antonaccis weren’t satisfied with authorities’ death investigation into how their son Kyle died at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois and hired a medical examiner to conduct a second autopsy on his body.
They were looking for answers surrounding Kyle’s death. They weren’t expecting to discover problems with the way his remains were buried.
“I never in the realm of possibilities ever thought that this would happen. Who does that to a body?” Lisa said, adding that no one would have ever known if they hadn't exhumed Kyle’s remains. “What scares me is how many other mommies didn’t exhume the body to see what happened.”
On Feb. 1, 2010, Kyle Antonacci was found hanging in the closet of his room at Naval Station Great Lakes, which is located 40 miles north of Chicago. The Lake County Coroner’s Office and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) ruled his death a hanging but have not yet ruled it a suicide or homicide. The case has been under investigation for the past 20-months. The Antonaccis claim their son would have never committed suicide. After their investigation discovered suspicious details surrounding his death, they believe he was murdered.
More on Kyle’s death investigation.
After autopsied by the Lake County Coroner’s Office, Kyle’s body was prepared for burial by Seguin & Symonds Funeral Home in Highwood, IL., before being shipped back to the Antonaccis in Hicksville, N.Y. He was then buried at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale.
On July 21, 2010, the Antonaccis had Kyle’s casket exhumed and hired Dr. Michael Baden, a former chief medical examiner for New York City and a host of the series “Autopsy” on HBO, to conduct a re-autopsy on his remains.
During an external examination of Kyle’s body, Baden said in his report the remains seemed to be in satisfactory condition. “The body is very well embalmed and in a very good state of preservation,” Baden added. It wasn’t until the medical examiner cut into Kyle's body that he noticed irregularities.
Baden explained that usually after an autopsy all of the deceased’s organs are put into a plastic bag, which is then placed back into the body. That body is then sent to a funeral home for embalming before burial. However, that was not the case when he cut Kyle’s body back open.
“The funeral director apparently removed the organs from the usual place in the plastic bag when the body is being reburied after autopsy and added this sticky gelatinous goo that distraughts the organs,” he explained to a videographer who was hired by the Antonaccis to videotape the process. “The organs have been covered with a gel substance that has discolored all the organs and it makes it very much more difficult to examine the organs because they’re all distorted by this gel.”
Click on the video link above to watch part of the exhumation process.
While Funeral Director Irving Symonds would not comment on Kyle’s burial preparations specifically, he told Patch that he’s very thorough during the embalming process and works extremely hard to make sure the bodies “look like themselves.”
In addition to the problem with the gel, Baden was also unable to locate Kyle’s hyoid bone during the re-autopsy.
“The hyoid bone is more commonly fractured in homicidal strangulation than a suicidal hanging,” Baden explained.
The Antonaccis had been hoping the doctor could re-examine the bone and tell them more about how Kyle died. But because the hyoid bone was missing, he was unable to do so. “It appears to me that the hyoid bone was probably lost when the viscera were emptied from the coroner's plastic bag at the funeral home,” Baden added.
During the time of Kyle’s death, Seguin & Symonds Funeral Home was under contract by Naval Station Great Lakes to prepare soldiers' bodies for burial before being sent home to their families.
What the Antonaccis didn’t know at the time of Kyle’s death was that a couple years earlier, another military family had filed a complaint with the base about Seguin & Symonds Funeral Home after it prepared their son for burial — information the Antonaccis wished they would have known beforehand.
A New Jersey family filed grievances with the Navy and Illinois Department of Professional Regulations (IDPR) against Symonds in 2009 because of the way their son was embalmed after dying from a heroin overdose at the base. The family told Patch their son’s remains returned home unrecognizable and their local funeral director commented that it was one of the worst conditions he had ever received someone in.
But after an investigation, neither the IDPR nor the Navy found fault with Symonds' practices. Instead, military officials claimed circumstance out of their control, like several plane delays — which left the casket sitting on an aircraft for an extended period of time — were to blame for the poor condition.
Symonds told Patch that since 2000 his family’s funeral home has prepared more than 75 servicemen for burial and he’s only dealt with those two complaints.
“This has already gone to the state. It’s done. It’s been put to rest,” Symonds said in response to the New Jersey family’s complaint. “I’m very meticulous,” he said about his work at the funeral home, which has been run by members of his family for 30 years. “I have to be for the military.”
The department of Navy & Marine Corps Mortuary Affairs told Patch the New Jersey family’s complaint is the only one its office has ever received concerning remains coming from this particular funeral home.
“The process of returning deceased service members to their families is one that we work hard to ensure goes as smoothly as possible. There are times when factors beyond the control of the Navy hinder this process,” a Navy public affairs specialist said in response to Patch’s inquiries. “We extend our condolences to both families as they grieve the loss of their loved ones."
Military officials say in order for a contract to be awarded to a particular funeral home there need to be at least 10 deaths per year on a base. Since the number of deaths fell below that threshold at Great Lakes in recent years “the decision was made not to execute the extension of that particular contract,” the Navy’s public affair’s office stated about its contract with Symonds.
While the Antonaccis are thankful to know Symonds is no longer under contract with the Navy base, they reiterate that no one has accepted the blame for what happened to their son’s remains. This is why the Antonaccis say they’ll continue to conduct their own investigation into Kyle’s death and what happened to his body afterwards.
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