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FedEx bot apologizes for ‘pending delivery’ of missing human remains

A delivery truck parked near a cargo jet during the morning package sort at the FedEx Express Hub in Memphis on March 8, 2022. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)
5 min

When Jeffrey Merriweather’s body was discovered weeks after a suspected shooting in 2019, the Georgia man’s family hoped the medical examiner’s office could give them some clarity on the 32-year-old’s cause of death. More than three years later, however, Merriweather’s remains are still nowhere to be found after the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office decided to ship them via FedEx to a specialized lab in St. Louis.

So when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted about its investigation of the case on Thursday night, FedEx was swift to respond. But instead of getting answers, the newspaper and those following the case got an impersonal response from what appeared to be a Twitter bot, an automated account that publishes lots of content.

“Hello there. My name is Gaby,” FedEx Help, the company’s customer service account, replied in a tweet that has since been deleted. “This is not the experience we want to provide. I am very sorry for the pending delivery. Please send a direct message, I would be happy to assist.”

While the generic response from customer service was met with ridicule and laughter on Friday — “Good God @FedEx” — very serious questions remain about why the medical examiner sent Merriweather’s remains via FedEx. The practice of sending remains through FedEx is prohibited, according to the company’s user manual. Transporting deceased bodies across state lines are usually done via airline, but the U.S. Postal Service says it is legally qualified to carry human remains across the country under strict guidelines.

“It’s a nightmare you can’t wake up from,” Kathleen Merriweather, Jeffrey’s mother, told the Journal-Constitution of the situation.

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A FedEx spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Friday. Though the company has long noted that almost all FedEx packages arrive on time, a spokesperson maintained to People magazine in April that customers should never use the service to ship human remains.

“Our thoughts and concerns remain with the family of Mr. Merriweather, however, we request that further questions be directed to the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office,” the statement read. “Shipments of this nature are prohibited within the FedEx network.”

It’s unclear why the medical examiner used FedEx to ship Merriweather’s remains. A spokesperson with the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On June 22, 2019, Jeffrey Merriweather’s partially decomposed body was discovered behind a house in southwest Atlanta, according to authorities. Police believe Merriweather was killed in a shooting related to a drug deal gone wrong, but the circumstances surrounding how his body had decomposed were a mystery, according to WSB-TV.

“Since he was partially skeletonized, we couldn’t determine a cause of death,” Jan Gorniack, then the chief medical examiner for Fulton County, told the TV station at the time.

When it came time for the medical examiner’s office to send Merriweather’s remains to an expert in St. Louis for a trauma analysis, what was left of the 32-year-old were shipped for $32.61 on July 5, 2019 in a FedEx box that was expected to arrive within two days, reported the Journal-Constitution.

Then, somewhere along the 555-mile route from Atlanta to St. Louis, the man’s remains got lost. Merriweather’s family wasn’t notified that his remains were missing until Aug. 19, 2019, nearly six weeks after the remains were scheduled to arrive, according to WAGA.

“I don’t know how this could have happened when you got to sign for stuff,” Merriweather’s father, Jeffrey Merriweather Sr., told WSB-TV. “You got tracking numbers.”

Gorniack told the station that the remains were last tracked to a FedEx facility in Austell, Ga., but that the remains have not been located since then.

The facility in Austell, only about 17 miles west of Atlanta, has been criticized by residents in recent years for the high number of packages that have been lost there. More than 4,200 people signed a petition in 2020 asking FedEx’s Austell facility, “Where are the packages?” TrustDALE, a consumer website, went one step further last April in describing the Austell location, which has a 1.4 rating on Google, as “a black hole.”

“We know that FedEx’s Austell facility is known for being a black hole when it comes to packages,” the website wrote. “We’ve received lots of complaints in the past year from people whose packages went into Austell but never came out.”

On Twitter, observers acknowledged the seriousness of the case, but also took time to lampoon FedEx’s customer service account for the cringeworthy response.

“This entire thread is a tour de force in the absolute uselessness of using AI instead of employing people to deal with customers,” one critic wrote. Jennifer Brett, a senior editor at the Journal-Constitution, agreed: “AI is not always the answer.”

Another observer responded, “Oh FedEx, no. Not like this.”

Merriweather’s family has repeatedly called for accountability from the medical examiner’s office and FedEx in the years since their son’s remains went missing. Kathleen Merriweather told the Journal-Constitution that since they’ve been unable to bury her son’s remains, the family, including his three children, has not had the chance to move on more than three years later.

“Now we can’t even have that closure,” she said.