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What To Do If You Find A Dead Body

Updated: Apr 12

It can be harrowing to come across a deceased person; even more so when you knew them.

However, an area with a dead body is considered a crime scene, and family members need to act accordingly.

The most important thing to do when you come across a death scene is not to touch anything - including the deceased - and call 911.

This article will discuss in detail exactly what you should do when you find a dead body to ensure your own safety.

7 Steps To Take When You Find A Dead Body

Knowing what to do when you come across a corpse will not only ensure that you follow the right protocol, but also that you protect yourself and the environment where the person was found.

1. Avoid touching anything

You should treat every scene of death as a crime scene as you might not know what has led to the death of the person.

Because it is a crime scene, you may not tamper with any potential evidence.

When left for a few days, human bodies will begin to decompose. This process releases harmful pathogens, bacteria, and potential viruses into the environment, which can infect you. For that reason, you need to immediately vacate the area.

However, remain nearby (at a safe distance) while you wait for authorities to arrive. This brings us to the next step.

2. Call first responders

Call 911 as soon as you've stepped away from the body.

If the body is recently deceased, you may be instructed to perform CPR or check for vitals. However, in most instances, the first responders will ask you to step back from the scene to protect yourself.

911 will send medical examiners and the police who will help you make educated decisions about the situation while you wait for them to arrive (such as checking for vitals or staying clear of the area).

3. Ensure your own safety

You probably don't know about the circumstances surrounding the death. The person may have succumbed to a highly infectious disease, or it might have been due to a violent crime.

If you suspect a murder occurred, you should definitely inform the police when you first make contact. Additionally, completely remove yourself from the situation - leaving the area and driving to a safe public space, for example.

4. Work with medical professionals and the police

When the ambulance arrives, show them where the body is without disturbing the scene.

Once the authorities arrive, they will have questions for you. They might ask you how you came across the scene, if and how you knew the person, and whether you've touched anything.

You will undoubtedly be emotionally impacted by the ordeal, but you must work with the emergency services teams and be open to working with the police further down the line if it turns into a criminal investigation.

Despite being the one who came across the scene, it is best to not take charge or overstep, and let the authorities do their work.

5. Contact a biohazard cleanup company

Dead bodies found in public areas are the responsibility of the authorities.

If you knew the deceased person or if the death occurred on your property, you might be responsible for cleaning up the area once the police investigation is complete.

However, this is not something you should undertake yourself.

Decomposing bodies release harmful bacteria and gases, while blood is considered a hazardous material.

Seek a bioremediation company or biohazard decontamination company like Chore-ology to take care of the unpleasant task of cleaning the area.

Professionals will remove all hazardous material, including porous surfaces that have become contaminated, and kill all bacteria and pathogens. If required, you'll be issued a certificate to declare that the property has been decontaminated and that it is safe for habitation.

6. Make the necessary calls

If you knew the deceased, you should contact immediate family members (the police sometimes do this if a crime has occurred) and notify them of the death of their loved one.

If the deceased individual was a close friend or family member, you'll have to arrange with the funeral home for all the formal proceedings following death. It is possible that when the body was removed, it was done so by a funeral director, although that's not always the case.

You need to set up a funeral arrangement conference where the details of the burial or cremation are discussed. This is also the time when you might have to apply for financial assistance to pay for the funeral or access the life insurance of the deceased.

7. Take care of your emotional health

Once the most important steps as outlined above have been taken, it is time you seek as much support for yourself as possible.

Coming across a dead body - whether you knew the person or not - is an unsettling experience that can result in severe emotional trauma.

It is best to get in contact with professional counseling services to help you deal with this traumatic experience.

Legal Obligations When You Find A Dead Body

The legal obligations surrounding the discovery of a dead body depend on the state.

In some states, no law says you must report a dead body if the cause of death was not a crime. Although there might be laws in place that say authorities must report deaths, and that a person is not allowed to desecrate a corpse, in some instances, there's no need to report a death.

This was seen in Oregon in the case of Christine Freise. Christine's sister, Elizabeth, never reported her death, and the corpse was only discovered after Elizabeth required medical assistance - five months after Christine's death. The Deschutes County district attorney confirmed that there was nothing illegal about how Christine's death (and the lack of reporting) was handled.

The same used to hold true for Michigan too, where there was no law to report a death. However, in 2011, a Michigan state senator introduced a bill that became law stating that you would get fined for not reporting a death.

Of course, this lack of legal obligation is the exception to the rule, with most states having laws in place that a death should be reported within a specific time frame.

Even if such a law does not exist in your state, it is always a good idea to notify the authorities of a dead body. The quicker a dead body is reported, the more likely the cause of death can be determined, and the crime scene cleanup will be easier.

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