‘This is not right’: Funeral home blows whistle after receiving decapitated baby

Sylvania Watkins said he knew something wasn’t right when a decapitated baby was received at his funeral home. (Source: WANF)
Published: Aug. 12, 2023 at 6:09 PM EDT
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RIVERDALE, Ga. (WANF/Gray News) - A manager at a funeral home in Georgia says he knew something wasn’t right when they received a decapitated baby.

“I just felt a sense of urgency to say this is not right, this is not right,” Sylvania Watkins, general manager of the Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home, said.

Earlier this week, the Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Office said it is investigating the death of an infant that was decapitated during birth. The hospital claims the baby was dead before the delivery.

Watkins said it was peculiar to receive a decapitated baby from a hospital.

“We should have retrieved this body from the coroner’s office. When that did not happen, that’s when I said we need to reach out,” Watkins said.

According to Watkins, he first called the family of the baby.

In a conversation with the baby’s grandmother, Watkins said he immediately knew that the family did not know the baby’s head was detached from his body.

“They didn’t know. They did not know,” Watkins said. “And to see the pain and the anguish as if like what really just happened, your heart goes out to them,” he said.

On Wednesday, the family’s attorneys, while announcing a lawsuit against the hospital and medical staff involved in the birth, said that the family was notified of the baby’s state by the funeral home, and not the hospital.

Watkins said he also called the Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Office which sent an investigator to the funeral home to begin a probe into what happened during and following the birth.

“I can never recall a time that we have received a phone call from a funeral home saying we need to report this type of death,” said Brian Byars, director of the Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Byars said they notified the Georgia Composite Medical Board of the situation and requested they investigate.

The Georgia Composite Medical Board oversees doctors in the state.

The medical examiner’s office also requested assistance from the Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees the conduct of nurses statewide.

Byars said the Clayton County Police Department is also investigating the circumstances around the boy’s death.

“You have so many people looking at this from so many different angles that are completely independent of each other. I have no doubt the truth will come out, and the public should rest assured they will get an honest answer and an honest review of what happened,” Byars said.

In Georgia, Black infants are more than twice as likely to die during birth, compared to white infants, as reported by WANF.

According to 2022 state data, there were 12.2 Black infant deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to 5.4 white infant deaths, per 1,000 live births.

“When we see systemic issues like that. This is a culture problem,” said Kimberly Seals Allers, a maternal and infant health advocate. And these are the things that need to be rooted out not just at this facility but out of health care providers who have grown to dehumanize us and our infants.”

Seals Allers is the founder of Irth App, which markets to users to provide prenatal, birthing, postpartum and pediatric reviews of care from other Black and brown women.

She said she hopes the information provided helps inform women about safe health care options.

In the latest statement from the Southern Regional Medical Center, where the baby was delivered, a spokesperson refuted claims in the family’s lawsuit and released the following:

“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the family and all those impacted by this tragic event. Our prayers also remain with the dedicated team of physicians, nurses and staff at Southern Regional Medical Center who cared for this patient.

As our deepest sympathies remain with the family, Southern Regional Medical Center denies the allegations of wrongdoing in the Complaint referencing the hospital. Due to patient privacy laws and HIPAA, we are unable to discuss the care and treatment of specific patients, but we can state this unfortunate infant death occurred in utero prior to the delivery and decapitation. The hospital voluntarily reported the death to the Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Office and is cooperating with all investigations. Since this matter is in litigation, we cannot provide additional statements.

Dr. St Julian is not and never has been an employee of the hospital.

Our commitment is to provide compassionate, quality care to every single patient, and this loss is heartbreaking for all involved.”