Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New York City officials identify Trade Center victims through DNA matches for first time

By Sara Kugler cache
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK – Medical officials have identified the first victims from the World Trade Center attacks based solely on DNA matches, a process that has involved toothbrushes, hairbrushes and other belongings of those lost in the wreckage.

Eight people were identified after DNA evidence was compared with samples gathered from victims' families after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Tuesday.

Marion DeBlase, 44, whose husband James DeBlase, 45, was lost in the attack, gave officials his hairbrush and toothbrush. The family also submitted cheek swabs from their three sons, and from James DeBlase's parents in hopes there would be a match if his remains are found.

"You have to come to some kind of closure somehow as each day goes by, but it's very difficult to come to terms with it when you have nothing to hold on to," Marion DeBlase said.

She last spoke to her husband just after a hijacked airliner smashed into Tower One of the trade center, where he worked on the 105th floor as a bond broker for Cantor Fitzgerald. The company lost nearly 700 employees in the attack.

DeBlase said her recent visit to the smoldering pile of debris did not give her hope that her husband's remains would be found.

"I assume that this is a very tedious and lengthy job ... especially if they're not finding whole persons," she said. "I would love to think that I would have something, but it's horrible to think that's the point we have come to."

The terrorist attack claimed another victim Monday when a Brooklyn woman struck by flaming jet fuel on Sept. 11 succumbed to her injuries.

Jeannieann Maffeo, 40, who was waiting for a bus on West Street when the plane struck the tower, died at Cornell Medical Center. She suffered burns from her head to her feet when hit with the fuel.

City officials said Tuesday the number of missing stands at 4,339. Of the 478 people whose remains had been recovered, 425 had been identified. Seven more bodies were pulled from the rubble early Wednesday.

Giuliani urged more relatives to submit DNA samples – which city officials say eventually will dominate the identification process – a 24-hour operation coordinated by the city medical examiner's office. Hundreds of remains arrive at the office daily, each in a separate bag with its own number.

DNA is used when no matches are made from other methods, such as fingerprints, dental records and surgical scars.

"We've gotten 2,600 samples, but we know that the numbers of people missing are closer to 5,000, so there are many more people that could submit DNA samples, if that's what they wanted to do," Giuliani said.

AP-WS-10-24-01 1032EDT

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