Family shocked when funeral gatecrashed

CAROLINE KING, MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD AND FAIRFAX
Last updated 05:00 21/12/2012
Funeral gatecrashers
John Bisset
CHANTING: An unknown man knelt before the coffin to pray, saying God had ordered him to do it.
Funeral gatecrashers
John Bisset
DOUBLE ACT: The two well-dressed men were not known to the deceased's family.

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A man who gatecrashed a funeral was taken into custody by Christchurch police after he made threats to exhume a body.

A police spokesman confirmed the man had been referred to psychiatric emergency services for assessment this morning

He said the man had not been arrested.

Police were contacted overnight after the man was reported to have threatened to exhume the body of a 90-year old man. He had previously intruded on the funeral for the deceased man on Wednesday.

Police apprehended him without incident as soon as he arrived at the cemetery. The grave was not disturbed.

Blenheim Road Motor Lodge owner Keith Gunasekara said at first he thought the man was the boss of one of the companies who had brought their staff in for an end of year breakfast.

However, he became suspicious after he went from table to table blessing people.

Gunasekara said he was asked by someone "did you organise that?"

Some people were becoming quite annoyed, he said.

Gunasekara told the man to leave, but he refused.

He told the man: "God did not tell you to disturb others ... I said 'you're disturbing their breakfast'."

He eventually left.

"It's the first time I've had something like that happen. It was very bizarre."

Gunasekara said he later recognised the man from the paper.

He was pleased to hear the man had been taken into police custody.

"It's a good idea. He got quite annoyed when I told him he was disturbing the people trying to have their breakfast. He thinks he's doing the work of God."

Earlier Law Society Canterbury-Westland branch president Allister Davis said police would be "hard-pressed" to charge the man with disorderly or offensive behaviour.

"When you put the death notice in it's an invitation to the world. If you know or don't know [the deceased or family], all can come along,'' he said.

''Unless you specify it's private, I can't think of any offence anyone could be charged with."

Family friend Alex Weaver said today the family of the man would complain to police about the incident.

Weaver said mourners who had gathered at the John Rhind Chapel in Richmond on Wednesday to farewell Harold Ritchie, 90, were shocked.

He said the incident, which happened when the minister invited people to come up and say a few words, "blighted" an otherwise pleasant service.

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"We thought it was all over. Next thing this young fella comes down the centre aisle and shook hands with the people on the left and right of the aisle, the family,'' he said.

''Then, without saying a word, he went up to the coffin and he started speaking in tongues - the whole gamut.

"Then he went on his knees and started praying and laying his hands on the casket."

Weaver said his son-in-law, who was a long-established pastor, was leading the service.

"He looked at me and I looked at him and thought, 'Oh goodness, where are we going to go from here?' Rather than cause a scene we just let the guy go on then cornered him after.

"Several of us gave him a real roasting.''

Weaver said family and friends wanted to ensure no-one else had to go through what happened that day.

"We don't want a witchhunt or anything like that; we just want to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else," he said.

Weaver said the man, in his 20s and wearing a suit, explained that God had told him to do it.

Yesterday morning, the man's pastor rang to apologise for his behaviour, Weaver said.

FAMILY SHOCKED WHEN FUNERAL GATECRASHED

A grieving family was left shocked when a man gatecrashed the funeral of a former Timaru man on Wednesday, chanting and ordering the deceased to "wake up".

The incident happened at the funeral of Harold Ritchie, aged 90, after the minister invited people to come up and say a few words.

Family member and Timaru Herald photographer John Bisset was there, and captured the bizarre funeral incident on camera. Mr Ritchie was the uncle of Mr Bisset's wife, Marie. He died on Friday.

Mr Bisset said mourners who had gathered at the John Rhind Chapel in Richmond were left shocked and stunned.

"A well-dressed man walked to the front of the chapel, turned to the immediate family and shook their hands," he said.

"I thought it was a little unusual, especially as he appeared to be avoiding eye contact," Mr Bisset said.

He said the stranger then turned to the coffin, removed the framed pictured of Mr Ritchie, and held it in his hands for a few moments.

"He then dropped to his knees with his hands raised and started babbling fast and loud," Mr Bisset said.

"He thumped the coffin with his fist and commanded Harold Ritchie to awaken," Mr Bisset said.

"It was quite a shock for everyone, especially for the widow and family.

"I had a camera handy and managed to record the intruder's antics."

Mr Bisset said his wife was shaking after the incident. "She found the whole incident very unnerving," he said.

"People looked at each other not knowing whether it was part of the service or some kind of prank."

Family friend Alec Weaver said Mr Ritchie's son-in-law was leading the service.

"Rather than cause a scene we just let the guy go on then cornered him after," Mr Weaver said. "We don't want a witchhunt or anything like that, we just want to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else."

Mr Bisset said the stranger sat at the back row with a friend immediately after his bizarre performance.

John Rhind Funeral general manager Tony Gearing said he was aware of incidents when people who did not know the deceased or the family attended a funeral for the refreshments, but nothing like this.

"It's the first time I've ever heard of it," he said. Mr Gearing said it was not until after the man finished that it was discovered he did not know the family or the deceased.

When the man was asked why he had done it, he said God had told him to.

"It's a totally inappropriate thing for someone to do," Mr Gearing said. "The concern is that he's going to crop up at other funerals." He said other funeral homes would be notified.

- The Timaru Herald

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