Just two or so dump trucks filled with never-before sifted debris from Ground Zero have yielded 72 new fragments of human remains in an almost three-month operation that could bring closure to more families of victims of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center terror attack.
Because of the size and condition of some of the remains the NYC Medical Examiner's office told ABC News there was a good chance of obtaining DNA samples that could lead to new IDs once DNA testing is completed. The remains of about 1,000 victims of the almost 3,000 killed at Ground Zero have still not been identified.
A memorandum summarizing the findings of the operation, in which 844 cubic yards of debris was forensically sifted, was released by New York City officials Tuesday. It stated that including the 72 new fragments, a total of 1845 potential human remains have now been located since 2006 and are at the Medical Examiner's Office and when possible will be subjected to DNA testing.
The full report summarizing the now completed sifting operation is expected--nearly 9 years after al Qaeda crashed planes into the Twin Towers --to yield clues to the identities of some of the victims whose remains were either never found or are not as yet identifiable.
The sifting operation took place at Fresh Kill Landfills in Staten Island, where the new debris was brought and run through a series of conveyor belts that sort debris by size. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the debris from the site yielded driver's licenses, rings, watches, wallets, shoes -- boxes and boxes of poignant reminders of the cost in human lives. This time, the sorting yielded bone fragments.
As of January 2010, the Medical Examiner's office had identified 1626 Ground Zero victims, or 59 percent of a reported 2,752 total. As of that date 21,744 remains had been recovered and 12,768, or 59 percent, had been identified.
In the months after the attack, based on the condition of remains, the difficulty of recovery and the state of DNA testing a decade ago, some experts projected the total number of positive identifications to be closer to 25 percent. New York City Medical Examiner Charles Hirsch, himself slightly injured in the attack, promised at the time that he would do everything in his power to identify as many victims as possible.
"We hope to get to 2,000 [victims identified], and when we get there, we won't stop," Dr. Hirsch told Patrice O'SHAUGHNESSY of the New York Daily News in 2002, one day before the first anniversary of the attack. Hirsch spoke to her at his office at the city morgue, where, she noted, more than 50 file drawers labeled "RM DM," for Reported Missing/Disaster Manhattan, held information about the victims.
"After we exhaust the limits of current science, if something new or better comes along, we'll do that," Hirsch said. "We'll never give up."
The forensic process began with victims relatives identifying them from photographs – 293 intact bodies were found. Wedding rings, scars, dental records, and fingerprints were also used. The first 1401 remains were identified in the first year after the attack.
Prior to the just-completed sifting operation, 1773 remains had been located since 2006, when an earlier sifting operation that lasted nearly two years was initiated after the discovery by demolition workers of bones atop the roof of a Deutsche Bank building that stood near the site of the South Tower. Twenty-five new victim IDs were made as a result. A DNA identification technique called SNPS, which relies on single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, was used for the first time in forensic analysis.
The debris sifted in the current operation came from excavations over the past two years from the following areas in and around Ground Zero including: N.Y. State Route 9A (West Street), Haul Road, Cedar Street, Washington Street, Vesey Street, the rooftop of Fiterman Hall and various subterranean structures, according to a memo written to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg by Deputy Mayor for Operations Edward Skyler on Jan. 28.