City Sifts Debris for 9/11 Remains

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The New York City medical examiner’s office will resume its search for human remains from the World Trade Center site. The office hopes advances in DNA identification technology may help identify all 2,753 people who died in the 9/11 attack in New York.

Over the next 10 weeks, workers will sift through roughly 590 cubic yards of debris from ground zero, currently in a designated section of the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island.

The city has identified the remains of 1,634 people who died in the September 11 attack in New York City.  Since 2006, the city has positively identified 34 people using the new technology, but the medical examiner’s office currently has 27 unique identifications that don’t match any of the victims, according to a spokeswoman for the office.

Many families of 9/11 victims have supplied the medical examiner’s office with toothbrushes or combs in the hopes that they can match people with the DNA found in debris at the site.

Mary Fetchet, who runs the support and advocacy group Voice of September 11, is grateful for the ongoing work. She says said families can choose how often to be notified by the medical examiner when remains are discovered. She has been notified by the medical examiner’s office five times that remains of her son Brad have been recovered. The 24-year-old died in the South Tower.

“It's refreshing when you think about a government office or department like the medical examiner to be so caring and compassionate and dedicated in their continuing efforts to identify other victims,” she said.

But others, like Donald Goodrich are less pleased with the ongoing sifting. Goodrich’s 33-year old son, Peter, was on United flight 175, which crashed into the South Tower. The medical examiner recovered one of Peter’s bones from the site, but Goodrich said it provided little comfort.

“For me at this stage, it’s of no importance to me that somewhere in our about the city of New York there are bits of the physical being that was once Peter. They’re there, that science can detect them and then inform me of their detection, is of no solace to me,” he said.

Goodrich, who is chairman of the group Families of September 11, says any call from the medical examiner would be heart wrenching and difficult at this point. 

“I have to remember him as he was, and I do,” he said. “There's nothing modern science can do to test for his soul. That belongs in another sphere, and that's what's most important to me.”