Scientists exhaust ways to identify Sept. 11 victims
Unidentified remains have been frozen in the hope that new technology will identify the body parts.
NEW YORK -- They are the unknown lost, the 1,161 victims of the World Trade Center attacks whose bodies could remain forever unidentified.
New York's medical examiner said Wednesday that it was halting the painstaking job of trying to identify more remains of those who died in the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan. Forty-two percent of the 2,749 victims remain unidentified.
For more than three years, forensic experts labored over bone and tissue fragments, trying to extract strands of DNA to divine the identities of lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and friends.
"This is a pause -- we've exhausted the limits of the technology as it exists today," said Ellen Borakove, the New York medical examiner's spokeswoman. "But the doctors have promised -- promised -- that we will never say 'case closed.'"
Staffers at the medical examiner's office had been calling and notifying families for three weeks when the news broke this week of the pause.
Sally Regenhard lost her son, Christian, in the collapse of the towers. He was a strapping 28-year-old firefighter with a love of painting and books, and he was at his station house in Red Hook, Brooklyn, when the emergency call came Sept. 11. Sally has no idea which tower Christian ran into.
"Oh God, it puts an end to hope that we might get some sort of answer," Regenhard said. "For me, the chance to find out what exactly happened to my son is over. For so many families of firefighters, our sons and husbands have disappeared into death."
Monica Iken's husband, Michael, was a bond broker, working on the 84th floor of the South Tower. No part of her husband has been found.
"The emptiness of not taking someone home is beyond being able to explain," said Iken, 34, who now leads September's Mission, an organization dedicated to creating a memorial. "But you also get to a point where what are you going to get back? A fragment of a person? Is that my husband?"
The city has 9,720 unidentified body parts, which biologists have freeze-dried and carefully stored, in hopes that someday new technology will allow for a re-examination.