Parents of fetus found at Cantrell sue home, DMC

Karen Bouffard and George Hunter
The Detroit News

A Metro Detroit couple filed suit Wednesday against the Detroit Medical Center and Cantrell Funeral Home after learning their child's remains were among 11 infant bodies discovered hidden in the funeral home's ceiling in mid-October. 

The ceiling compartment where the remains of 11 infants were found hidden inside the former Cantrell Funeral Home.

Whitney Morris and AJ Johnson are the parents of Baby Boy Morris, one of 10 fetuses whose remains were discovered, along with those of a newborn baby, after an anonymous tip led state inspectors and police to search a ceiling crawl space at the shuttered Mack Avenue funeral home on Oct. 12. 

Two of the babies' remains were nestled in a tiny casket, and the others were stored in a cardboard box. Detroit Police Chief James Craig confirmed Wednesday that he met with the couple to inform them their infant’s remains were among the 11 found in Cantrell’s ceiling.

Cantrell was shut down in April after inspectors with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs found 21 improperly stored bodies, some of them covered in mold. All told, 38 unattended bodies or fetuses and 269 containers of cremated remains have been removed from the facility.

The lawsuit filed in Wayne County Circuit Court also names Raymond E. Cantrell II and Annetta Cantrell, the second wife of the late Cantrell founder Raymond Cantrell,  as defendants. Cantrell owner Raymond Cantrell II has not returned multiple phone calls seeking comment, while Arnold Reed, an attorney for Annetta Cantrell, said his client never ran the Cantrell Funeral Home in Detroit.

The complaint claims the mother was five months pregnant in September 2011 when she delivered her baby unattended after being left alone on a gurney while awaiting treatment for bleeding and abdominal pain at DMC Hutzel Women's Hospital. The baby was declared stillborn.

A Detroit Medical Center spokesperson said the health system does not comment on pending litigation.  

The mother made burial arrangements with Cantrell Funeral Home the next day, according to the filing. But when she called the hospital to request they release the baby to Cantrell, she was told Hutzel did not have the remains and to contact Cantrell "as they must have already picked him up." 

The mother for years continued to try to track down her infant's remains while the hospital and funeral home each claimed the other had possession, according to the lawsuit. 

About three years after her child's birth, Morris was contacted by Hutzel and told that her infant's body had been located and cremated along with other infants' remains, the suit says. So the parents were shocked to learn last week that their child's remains were among those found in Cantrell's ceiling, their attorney, Bill Colovos, said. 

"She said, 'Can I have my baby?'" Colovos said Wednesday of the mother's meeting with police. "(The detectives) said, 'Right now, the baby’s at the medical examiner's office.'

"The baby’s caught in between all this, and the baby’s evidence. These are very, very traumatic things." 

The lawsuit seeks $10 million in damages.

Twitter: @kbouffardDN