When the World Trade Centers fell to a terrorist attack on 9/11, nearly 3,000 people died in an instant. The remains of more than a third of them remain unidentified 20 years later. But thanks to advancements in forensic technology, medical examiners may be able to clear some of those cases and give peace of mind to those families.
New York City Chief Medical Examiner Barbara A. Sampson said her office identified the remains of two more victims in the 9/11 attacks recently. It’s the first identification since 2019. And it’s a positive sign that we may someday ID more of the 1,100 people who remain unaccounted for.
“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,” said Sampson said, according to the ABC7. “‘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.”
Coroners identified the DNA of 47-year-old Dorothy Morgan, a Marsh & McLennan broker. Recovery teams found her DNA in 2001, but officials couldn’t identify it until now. The family of the second person identified asked for the medical examiner to withhold his name.
The Science Behind Identifying 9/11 Victims
Experts identified these 9/11 victims using a new development in DNA testing. Next-Generation Sequencing needs a much smaller sample to identify DNA than traditional methods. That long-used approach looked for biological markers in the nucleus of a cell. Next-Gen can pull genetic markers out of the mitochondria, The Daily Mail said.
For most of us, it’s been a very long time since we took biology classes. But, in short, this new technique is a game-changer. The Department of Defense used this technology to ID the DNA of soldiers from World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam.
Though, some of the DNA samples retrieved from the rubble of the World Trade Center are too damaged for experts to test.
Medical examiners are scientists, so they keep a healthy distance from their investigations. But 9/11 is different. The attacks are personal for all Americans, and identifying these remains continues to be of national importance.
Next-Generation sequencing is the best chance we have right now at moving toward that goal. Mark McMahon, director of DNA operations for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, said this method is a big leap in forensic technology.
“Will it solve all cases? Probably not,” McMahon told the Associated Press. “But even if it leads to 20 percent identification, that is significant. You are bringing closure to someone’s family on this.”