In the decade since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, countless families of victims are no closer to finding closure.
The New York City medical examiner’s office has forged a massive forensic investigation to identify the remains of victims, prompted by a Supreme Court appeal of families who wanted a more thorough search.
Years after the attacks, discoveries of remains were found in manholes and on rooftops around ground zero. Of 21,000 remains recovered, nearly 9,000 are still unidentified because of the degraded condition they were found in, reports the Associated Press.
More than 1,100 victims have no identifiable remains.
Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on the operation thus far.
The process is a painstaking one. DNA is collected from victims' personal possessions, such as a toothbrush, or from relatives or previously identified remains.
Bone fragments are examined, cleared and pulverized into powder to extract genetic traces, a process that could take up to one week before a match is discovered.
When an identification is made, the remains are returned to the family. In some cases, nothing survives the DNA testing, and relatives might only receive the packaging where the remains had been stored.
Most of the DNA profiles matched come from previously identified remains.
There’s no way to give a time frame for when an identification is going to be discovered, if at all, according to Mark Desire, who heads the World Trade Center identification unit for the city medical examiner’s office.
The team is working nonstop, Desire tells the AP.
In five years, only 26 new identifications have been made. The most recent was Ernest James, a 40-year-old man who worked in the trade center's north tower, in late August.
About 400 bone fragments are looked at and analyzed every month, the report adds.
(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)