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Winnipeg family told grandson was killed, but he showed up a week later alive and well

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A Winnipeg family is looking for answers after their grandson, who they were told had been killed, showed up at the front door alive and well.

Judy Panchenko's world came crashing down when two police officers showed up at her door in May delivering the worst news imaginable – her grandson Peter Panchenko was dead.

"He proceeded to say not only was Peter dead, but he had been murdered," Judy's partner Cheryl Cook told CTV News.

The two were told Peter had been identified as the victim of a homicide that happened in the Point Douglas area on April 27. Police had been alerted to a suspicious fire at around 1 a.m. in the area of MacDonald Avenue and Gomez Street, where they found a person dead.

But Judy said she doubted the victim was her grandson.

"I said it's not Peter, and they're looking at me. I said, I'm telling you, Peter will never go downtown," Judy recalled.

Another reason for doubt, Judy and Cheryl said they got a text message from Peter on May 8, more than a week after he was supposedly killed.

"I kept saying, 'Are you sure?' And they're saying, 'Yes, we're 99.9 per cent sure this is Peter,'" Cook said.

Kelly Dehn, director of public affairs for the Winnipeg Police Service, said officers had visited the family in order to get DNA samples to confirm the identity of the victim with 100 per cent certainty. He said the officers did listen to the family's doubts and followed up on them.

Meanwhile, Judy says they started calling friends and family to break the news of their grandson's death – that is until Peter showed up on his father's front door step and rang the doorbell to tell his family he wasn't dead.

The family says Peter, who lives a nomadic life, had been completely unaware of what had been happening.

"His friends told him, 'You got to get a hold of your dad because they think you're dead,'" Cook said.

The Office of Manitoba's Chief Medical Examiner says misidentification of a deceased person is 'extremely rare, if not unprecedented.'

"When we need to identify someone who is unrecognizable, we use scientific means such as finger prints, dental records and DNA," a statement from the Chief Medical Examiner's office reads.

"We are looking into the circumstances of what happened so that it won’t happen again."

Judy and Cook said when they called the medical examiner, they were told the body had been identified based on dental records and a plate in his mouth from a previous facial surgery.

At the time of the killing, police had asked for the public's help to identify the victim. Dehn told CTV News the reason investigators were having trouble identifying the victim was because the remains had been badly burned.

While she hasn't heard of something like this happening before, Forensic Anthropologist Pamela Mayne Correia says identification does become more challenging when remains have been burned.

She says medical examiners rely on different information to identify remains including DNA samples, dental records or medical records that can be compared to a missing person's database. But when remains are burned, the samples may be damaged.

"Lots of times with burned remains or cremated remains that are very, very severe, it is a tentative identification, not a positive," said Correia, an adjunct professor in the University of Alberta's department of anthropology.

The whole ordeal has left the family with a range of emotions – they are happy Peter is alive, but angry this mistake happened in the first place.

"It was so horrible," Judy said. "They had it so bloody wrong. That's the thing, they had it so wrong."

Winnipeg police tells CTV News it has since established the identity of the victim and is working with the victim's family to confirm it.

Police have charged 23-year-old Tyrus Mann with second-degree murder in connection with the death. The charges against him have yet to be proven in court.

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