18 years later, experts are still working to identify remains of 9/11 victims

2 victims identified this year, but more than 1,100 left

By Dawn Jorgenson - Graham Media Group
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A firefighter breaks down after the World Trade Center buildings collapsed Sept.11, 2001, after two hijacked airplanes slammed into the twin towers in a terrorist attack. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

It's been 18 years since the United States went under attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

There are many people who are still dealing with the aftermath — people who survived but are now dealing with health issues, some who have endured losing a loved one years after the fact from those acquired health issues — and though much of the country mourns every year, a good portion of us go on about our everyday lives, not thinking about or dealing with the aftermath on most other days — except the Medical Examiner's Office in Kips Bay. This many years later, they are still trying to identify victims' remains.

"This is a process that we've not stopped since 2001," Mark Desire, the assistant director of the department of forensic biology at the medical examiner's office, told NY1 Spectrum News. "So all of the remains — and there are 22,000 remains that have been recovered — all of those remains have been attempted many times over the years."

Believe it or not, as of recently, the office has identified 1,644 victims, about 60% of the people who were killed that day.

The other 40% have been difficult to identify due to being badly damaged by fuel and fire. But that doesn't mean scientists have lost hope on the remaining victims. 

"We've been able to reach a point today where we're able to pulverize the bone material to a very fine powder, which will give us access to much more cells than we (had) in the past," Desire said.

The new technology allows scientists to extract hard-to-access DNA from the bone fragments. And in 40 cases they've used the technology, the DNA has been successfully extracted. However, there are no DNA samples from all of the family members of the victims for reference. That, Desire said, is the second half of the challenge for them.

"I would love to be able to say that we're going to identify — that's our goal: to identify every victim," Desire said. "But I know that we're not going to be able to obtain that goal because that second half of the challenge, the reference samples from the families, we don't have DNA samples from all of families for all of the victims."

This year, two more victims of the 9/11 attack were identified, but there are still more than 1,100 people who need to be identified.


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