(Sep 11)(NYT)Reopening Old Wounds’: When 9/11 Remains Are Identified, 20 Years Later

September 11, 2021

For 20 years, the medical examiner’s office has quietly conducted the largest missing persons investigation ever undertaken in the nation — testing and retesting the 22,000 body parts painstakingly recovered from wreckage after the attacks. Scientists are still testing the vast inventory of unidentified remains for a genetic connection to the 1,106 victims — roughly 40 percent of the ground zero death toll — who are still without a match so that their families can reclaim the remains for a proper burial.

Like relatives of most of the other victims, Ms. Morgan had submitted a reference sample nearly two decades ago of her mother’s DNA — so long ago, she does not recall what it was. But through new technology, the medical examiner’s office matched her sample to a tiny bone fragment found amid the thousands of remains.

Her mother became the 1,646th World Trade Center victim to be identified through DNA testing. Remarkably, the 1,647th match came days later: a man whose name the agency did not release in accordance with his family’s wishes.

They were the first positive identifications since 2019. Victim identifications come less than once a year today, a far cry from the years immediately following 2001, when there were hundreds of identifications each year.

After all, the collapse and recovery at ground zero was unlike smaller disasters, such as the condominium collapse in Surfside, Fla., that killed nearly 100 people in June. There, the authorities were able to use rapid DNA testing and other methods to quickly identify victims.

Many remains recovered at ground zero had damaged and degraded in the fiery rubble for weeks or longer and therefore had scant amounts of DNA to extract.

By 2005, with the agency running dry on positive hits, its officials told families they were pausing work on the project because they were simply not making any more matches with current DNA forensic technology.

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