But the ER desk at the New Brunswick hospital couldn't tell them, even as doctors worked frantically on a 15-year-old "John Doe" just steps away.
He had been struck by a car hours earlier last October while walking with friends who told police his name was George Coleman, Jr. But a series of miscommunications within the police department and within the hospital, and between the organizaions kept the news away from his parents until just moments before he died.
"Is there anyway you guys can help us with that (identification) at this point," asked a hospital official in a police recorded call about 40 minutes after the accident.
"I'm sitting at the front desk at headquarters here, Bro. You know more than I do," responded police supervisor Sgt. William Oels.
Except that other officers already knew who the victim was, as did some people at the hospital.
"He could have simply picked up a radio and called somebody at the scene," said police expert Richard Rivera of the sergeant. Rivera obtained the police recordings and released them.
Apparently the police department agrees.
"(Sgt. Oels) definitely did not meet up to the standards we expect from our officers and he was disciplined accordingly," said New Brunswick police spokesman J.T. Miler.
Sgt. Oels has since retired from the police department, reportedly with a $219,00 check for unused vacation and sick leave time. He did not respond to a recording left on his home voice mail.
Miller said New Brunswick police are "enhancing" their notification policy with a "more hands on approach."
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital said it is doing the same.
In a statement it said "RWJUH has initiated additional staff training and has worked closely with the city of New Brunswick and the police department on developing their new notification procedure."
For George's father, George Coleman Sr., it is cold comfort.
"It's unbelievable they couldn't get that information from these kids(George, Jr.'s friends) so what were they interrogating them about?" he asked, referring to the several hours the friends were kept waiting in police headquarters after the accident.
The family attorney, Patricia Bombelyn, has already filed notice of intent to sue.
Her reaction to the tapes? "How can (it) not occur to you 'there but for the grace of God go I' thinking about a parent when you hear the hospital call and say 'We need help?'"