- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

Forensic specialists are using everything from photographs to DNA samples to identify bodies and body parts of victims of last week's terrorist attacks.
Their task is slow and sometimes frustrating, but they predict most victims eventually will be identified.
"We're confident that if we have good tissue specimens and good reference specimens, we can make an identity," said Christopher Kelly, spokesman for the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) in the District, which is responsible for identifying all victims of the hijacking attack on the Pentagon.
DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid contains a person's genetic material and is found in nearly every cell of the body. Each person's DNA is unique except in identical twins.
"DNA is the gold standard for identification," Mr. Kelly said.
As of late yesterday, the bodies of 115 of the 189 victims of the attack on the Pentagon have been recovered. Thirty have been identified.
In New York, 5,422 persons have been reported missing since two hijacked airliners flew into and destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. To date, 233 bodies have been recovered, of which 170 have been identified. The number identified represents 3 percent of those missing.
The New York City Medical Examiner's Office, whose DNA testing lab is the largest in the country, is trying to identify the corpses and body parts recovered from the rubble there.
A team of experts, consisting of medical examiners; morgue, toxicology and DNA scientists; and medical-legal investigators have begun examining the remains recovered in New York.
Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the medical examiner, yesterday outlined the steps that are taken to identify a victim.
The first step, she said, is to try to identify visually and through fingerprints; the second is through dental records.
Investigators then compare personal characteristics on a body, such as scars, evidence of surgery such as a missing gallbladder or appendix or a pacemaker or other implanted medical device, with information that relatives of a missing person have provided on a seven-page questionnaire.
If identification is still not possible, said Ms. Borakove, investigators then turn to DNA. Family members are asked to provide items that may contain strands of hair or body fluids.
"We expect to do DNA testing on every body or piece of tissue we get," said Ms. Borakove.
Robert Shaler, who runs the laboratory, told the New York Times it is gearing up to test 300 to 700 tissues a day and up to 20,000 total.
Ms. Borakove noted that DNA allows identification of someone, even if no samples from the missing person can be obtained to compare with the remains.
"We can take a swab of the cheek of a relative of a missing person" and compare that with remains needing an identity, she said.
Ms. Borakove declined to speculate on how many people who died at Ground Zero will be identified. But some forensic experts quoted in news accounts have predicted the figure will be greater than 50 percent. Some have said it could be as high as 90 percent.
Mr. Kelly of AFIP said all remains from the Pentagon are being transferred to the Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., where they are undergoing analysis by a team of 70 specialists.
All military personnel have both fingerprint records and full-mouth X-rays on file. The Defense Department has blood-stain cards on file for 3.5 million people in military service. Mr. Kelly said blood on those cards can be used to match up with tissue samples from the crash site.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide