2 more 9/11 victims identified nearly 20 years later with new DNA technology

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Just days before New York City marked 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, New York City officials announced Tuesday that two more victims have been identified through new DNA technology. 

Dorothy Morgan, an insurance broker from Hempstead, N.Y., who was working in the north tower on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, became the 1,646th World Trade Center victim to be identified through DNA testing last month. The 1,645th victim was identified just days later, but his family did not want his name released. The two were the first positive identifications since October 2019. 

“Twenty years ago, we made a promise to the families of World Trade Center victims to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to identify their loved ones, and with these two new identifications, we continue to fulfill that sacred obligation,” Dr. Barbara A. Sampson, chief medical examiner of the City of New York, said in a statement. “No matter how much time passes since September 11, 2001, we will never forget, and we pledge to use all the tools at our disposal to make sure all those who were lost can be reunited with their families.”

New York City’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) has quietly been conducting a large-scale missing persons investigation over the past 20 years, working to test and retest some 22,000 body parts recovered among the wreckage of the two collapsed towers, the New York Times reported. 

Morgan’s remains were recovered in 2001, while the remains of the man were recovered in 2001, 2002 and 2006. New forensic technology and advances in DNA science allowed the medical examiner’s office to identify those two victims, Sampson’s office said, as family members had provided DNA samples two decades ago. The painstaking process of combing through fiery rubble at Ground Zero left much of the remains sitting there for weeks, if not years, to become further damaged with less DNA to extract. 

Testing is often conducted on small bone fragments no larger than a Tic Tac, NPR reported. 

The death toll for the 2001 World Trade Center attack in New York City is 2,753 people, yet roughly 40% of those victims have yet to be identified, meaning any surviving family members of those 1,106 people have still not been afforded the opportunity to give their loved ones a proper burial. 

The ongoing effort to identify victims of the World Trade Center disaster is the largest and most complex forensic investigation in the history of the United States, Sampson’s office said. 

The medical examiner’s office said the recent adoption of “next-generation sequencing technology by OCME’s DNA laboratory promises to result in more new identifications.” More sensitive and rapid than conventional DNA techniques, next-generation sequencing has been used by the U.S. military to identify the remains of missing American service members, Sampson’s office said. 

“We continue to push the science out of necessity to make more identifications,” Mark Desire, assistant director of the OCME Department of Forensic Biology and manager of the World Trade Center DNA Identification Team, said in a statement. “The commitment today is as strong as it was in 2001.”

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