The first sign that Tyler Chase got that he might be dead came at a convenience store. He had food stamps, but his benefit card didn’t work.

The next sign was when he contacted Oregon state officials, who told him that a death certificate had been filed in his name.

Then, weeks later, came the most disturbing development: An urn of ashes had been sent to his family, and it was sitting in his cousin’s closet.

In reality, he was very much alive.

Mr. Chase’s life coursed through years of drug use, homelessness, severed family ties and a bureaucracy that documented his death without his fingerprints or any immediate family present when the body believed to be his was cremated.

He began using methamphetamines as a teenager, and after the death of his mother in 2020, he plunged into a dark period of serious addiction and crime. Then, in January 2023, he was arrested on several charges, including burglary and drug possession.

“My life was a mess,” Mr. Chase, 22, said in a recent phone interview.

Eventually, he was released into a transitional housing facility in Portland, Ore., on the condition that he complete an addiction recovery program. By early October, when he learned of the death certificate, Mr. Chase had been sober seven months and was looking for work, he said.


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