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Family Grieving Over Death of Mother Not Allowed to Access Her Home

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DUBUQUE, Iowa A Dubuque family grieving the loss of a mother last week ran into what they say is an unexpected and baffling complication. They say managers of her apartment building changed the locks on her apartment door within hours of her death. And that action left them almost helpless when it came to getting her belongings to prepare for a funeral.

Mae Mitchell, 46, died last Thursday after an apparent heart attack. The family said a building maintenance man changed the lock and only gave them 15 minutes inside her apartment the day after she died. And the family says no one can tell them why the sudden rush to change locks and shut them out.

Sharita Mitchell, the eldest daughter, said the family finally got another 15 minutes inside the apartment again on Tuesday. They used that time to get one of her favorite outfits to use for burial. Mitchell's 12-year-old son Devin also lived in the apartment with his mother. The family managed to grab some of Devin's clothing as well but had to leave school work and other items behind. They still don't know when they'll be able to remove furniture and other larger items.

Family members said a maintenance man told them he changed locks on the orders of the management of the Bishop Block Apartments, 90 Main Street Dubuque. Calls to his supervisor with Mercy Housing, the building operators, weren't returned.

Sharita Mitchell, who lives in the same apartment building, said her mother's rent was paid up till the end of January. She especially worries about the impact on her youngest brother Devin.

"When my brother found her deceased like that, he instantly ran out of her apartment so everything he had there was still left there," Mitchell said.

Her sister, Katie Wilson, said the unexplained lock change has interfered with her grieving process.

"I would have liked to to go in there ... I would have liked to lie in her bed, go through her stuff and remember," Wilson said.

Family members went to Dubuque Police about the access problem. They were told it was a civil matter. A Legal Aid lawyer is working on their case, but hasn't offered a solution yet.

Family members thought their disabled mother was receiving housing assistance to help her with the rent. That might have given the city cause to intervene. However, Dubuque housing officials say they can't find any record of Mae Mitchell on their housing rolls. So the city can't help either.

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