A gardener accidentally mowed around a dead body after assuming it was a Halloween decoration or a training dummy.
The body was found on the lawn of an abandoned log cabin used by several law enforcement agencies for training near Charlotte, North Carolina, on 10 October, local police said.
A groundskeeper had seen the body the day before, but mistook it for “a fake dummy used for training” and mowed the grass around it.
He therefore didn’t report it to police and a building worker on the property reported it the following day.
The body was identified as Robert Paul Owens, a 34-year-old man.
Haley Shue, his sister, told NBC News her family is heartbroken that her brother’s body wasn’t reported sooner, adding that it was exposed for too long for them to have an open casket memorial for him.
“There’s definitely some sort of foul play,” she said, describing her brother as a kind person who “adored” his nieces and nephews.
Ms Shue said the groundskeeper found him “face down in his underwear and socks with one arm under him, one arm out, with marks on his arms that he [the gardener] took to be defensive”.
“You can only think what’s running through our mind. He doesn’t have any of his clothes – where’s his clothes? Where’s his belongings? Where’s his wallet, his cellphone, shoes?”
She said the construction worker who reported the body told the family the groundskeeper “assumed that [my brother] was Halloween decor or a mannequin, and I guess he took it upon himself to assume that and not verify and mowed the entire property.
“It just blows our mind how someone cannot stop and verify this is a strange Halloween decoration or a strange mannequin or dummy – why would officers leave this behind?”
Mr Owens was last seen by his family on 8 October when he was picked up by someone to visit a friend but didn’t return home.
The abandoned home where he was found is an isolated property he had never been to before, his sister said, near their grandmother’s home where he had lived.
Preliminary findings from an autopsy on Friday ruled out any signs of assault or trauma, police said, adding they are waiting for a toxicology report to determine the cause of death.