Over 40 percent of 9/11 families never recovered any remains of their loved ones, but that doesn’t mean city officials are giving up. NY1’s Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
Mark Desire, who works for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, lauds the perseverance of his organization.
“The dedication is as great as it was in 2001,” says Desire.
Nearly 10 years after the World Trade Center attacks, a team of scientists is still working fulltime to identify victims’ remains. They test about 400 samples a month using the latest in DNA technology.
“Technology has reached a point where we can go back to remains that we attempted in 2001 and 2002 and apply these new tactics,” says Desire.
“The testing itself is pretty much the same, the steps involved are the same, but our methods have become more sensitive over the years,” says Taylor Dickerson of the WTC Identification Team. “We are able to get smaller amounts of DNA from pieces of remains that we test.”
For years, 9/11 remains have been preserved and stored in a tent on East 30th street known as Memorial Park. Every week, about a hundred samples are transported to a nearby forensic lab, where tiny bone samples are first pulverized, then put through a process similar to one on display in the above video, though NY1 was not allowed to shoot actual samples.
If a sample generates a DNA profile, a computer then seeks to match it against 17,000 reference samples that have been collected from victims’ families.
“We have matches every month,” says Desire.
However, the match is often with a previously identified victim. New matches are rare. Since 2008, only two new victims have been identified.
Still, the city is committed to continued testing, with the hope that future advances will make more identifications possible, even after remains are removed to their final resting place: a repository at bedrock, behind a wall at the 9/11 Museum engraved with a quote from Virgil: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”
While the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site opens in September and the underground museum a year later, officials don't expect to move unidentified remains to the repository until early 2013.