Woman starts knocking inside coffin during her wake: ‘Gave us all a fright’


An Ecuadorian woman declared dead at the age of 76 woke up five hours into her remembrance service and started knocking inside her coffin. 

Doctors declared retired nurse Bella Montoya dead following a possible stroke and cardiopulmonary arrest. She did not respond to resuscitation efforts, Ecuador’s health ministry said. 

The family gathered at a funeral home and held her wake June 9 but had to stop when they heard a sound from the coffin. The wake started just hours after doctors declared Montoya dead, according to her son.

“It gave us all a fright,” Montoya’s son, Gilberto Barbera, told The Associated Press. But he stressed that her condition remains dire. Her family returned her to a hospital immediately. 

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Health workers try to remove Bella Montoya, 76, from her coffin after she started knocking from the inside.  (Associated Press)

“There were about 20 of us there,” Barbera said. “After about five hours of the wake, the coffin started to make sounds. My mom was wrapped in sheets and hitting the coffin, and when we approached, we could see that she was breathing heavily.”

Barbera said doctors theorized the cardiorespiratory arrest caused his mother to suffer catalepsy, a trance-like state in which the body goes rigid and has decreased sensitivity to pain. Several functions such as breathing slow down, according to the New York Post.  

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Coffin surprise alive

Funeral parlor workers check Bella Montoya to see if she’s alive after her family reported hearing noises from her coffin during her wake.  (Associated Press)

“My mother is on oxygen. Her heart is stable,” Barbera said. “The doctor squeezed her hand, and she reacted. They tell me this is a good sign because it means she is reacting little by little.

“Now, I only ask that my mother’s health improves,” he added. “I want her alive and by my side.”

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Health workers lift Bella Montoya onto a gurney to take her back to a hospital for treatment after realizing she was still alive. (Associated Press)

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Ecuador’s health ministry said Montoya remained in intensive care Monday while the ministry opened an investigation into the doctors who treated her last week. Investigators will pay particular attention to the hospital’s process for issuing death certificates. 

The health ministry did not release any information about the doctor who prematurely declared Montoya dead. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 



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