- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

The search for thousands of bodies in the rubble of the World Trade Center and the herculean job of matching names to human remains have been eclipsed by the anthrax scare and war in Afghanistan but not at Dr. Charles Hirsch's office.
Death is backlogged inside and out of the six-story brick headquarters of New York City's chief medical examiner.
Around the clock, 30 pathologists and 450 other workers, including from the state police, the FBI and a federal Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, tend to hundreds of numbered body bags brought daily by ambulance or morgue wagon to the facility.
Remains then are stored in dozens of refrigerated trailers parked near the morgue at First Avenue and 30th Street, blocks from Bellevue Hospital on the city's East Side.
"There are plenty more empty spares parked with other equipment on the West Side Highway for when we need them," said city Deputy Police Commissioner Thomas Antenen.
Yesterday, 43 days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Hirsch's office identified the first victims based solely on DNA matches, a process that involved toothbrushes, hairbrushes and other belongings of those lost in the wreckage.
DNA was used to identify eight victims who could not be distinguished using other methods, such as fingerprints, dental records and surgical scars. The first victim from the American Airlines plane that hit the north tower also was identified.
"Most of the remains are not visually identifiable," said Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for Dr. Hirsch, delicately underscoring a unique feature of the investigation. "We speak to the family in terms we feel they can handle."
Of the 478 persons whose remains have been recovered, 425 have been identified. Another 4,339 still are listed as missing and presumed dead, a toll that includes 343 firefighters, 23 city police officers and 37 Port Authority police officers.
Seven more bodies were pulled from the rubble early yesterday.
Dr. Hirsch, 64, who himself was injured while directing emergency workers when the center's south tower collapsed, had high hopes he would identify everyone, perhaps within a year, said Miss Borakove.
"I don't know how we could even compare it to anything that ever happened, but we don't believe it's insurmountable at all," Miss Borakove said.
In virtually every case, the customary autopsy is not performed.
"We know the cause of death on most of them is blunt-impact injury. They are all homicides; most people don't realize that," said Miss Borakove.
Each fragment of human remains is placed in a separate body bag to avoid DNA contamination, Miss Borakove said. The tedious identification process begins by extracting DNA from tissue.
Although Dr. Hirsch oversees the largest DNA lab in the United States, the largest mass murder in U.S. history was too much to handle there. Samples are sent for profiling five days a week by overnight courier to the Salt Lake City lab of Myriad Genetics.
Using DNA samples gleaned from items such as victims' old chewing gum, unwashed clothes, hairbrushes and pillowcases provided by families, lab technicians attempt to make a match. When no direct sample exists for cellular DNA matching, cheek swabs from close relatives are sent to Celera Genomics in Rockville for mitochondrial DNA testing, which confirms familial identification but is less specific.
Although Myriad Genetics estimated on Sept. 18 that DNA matches to specimens would begin within two weeks, the process was delayed to revise computer software used in the process, officials said.
"As that process kicks in, the number of missing will start going down," Commissioner Antenen said.
Miss Borakove said more than 7,700 human remains have been recovered so far. Another city official said 186 of those are intact corpses, but Miss Borakove wouldn't confirm that.
New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani yesterday urged more relatives to submit DNA samples. About 2,000 families are thought to be reluctant to take that final step that might acknowledge a close relative's loss.
"We've gotten 2,600 samples, but we know that the numbers of people missing are closer to 5,000, so there are many more people that could submit DNA samples, if that's what they wanted to do," Mr. Giuliani said.
The fluctuating counts of bodies and presumed dead over the past several weeks were often the result of duplicate names culled during various points in the process, as well as different standards used by the police and the medical examiner's office.
Commissioner Antenen said detectives tentatively identify even partial bodies from a wallet in a pocket or other distinctive items found with body parts. "The medical examiner cannot accept the detective's assumptions, although both are concerned with accuracy," he said.
"No job of this magnitude ever has been done before. We are not going to rush it or to guess when it will be [done]," Commissioner Antenen said.
By state law, only after the medical examiner is satisfied and issues a death certificate may police notify the family. Yesterday, police officers began visiting families of the eight identified from what were expected to be thousands of DNA matches.
The terrorist attack claimed another victim on Monday when a Brooklyn woman struck by flaming jet fuel on Sept. 11 succumbed to her injuries.
Jeannieann Maffeo, 40, who was waiting for a bus on West Street when the plane struck the tower, died at Cornell Medical Center. She suffered burns from her head to her feet when hit with the fuel.

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