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Profile: Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory
Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory was a participant or observer in the following events:
Under the authority of the FBI, remains of 9/11 victims at the Pentagon are taken to a temporary morgue in the Pentagon’s north parking lot, where they are photographed, labeled, and then placed in refrigeration. [Stars and Stripes, 9/17/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A-47; Quartermaster Professional Bulletin, 3/2005] They are then transported to Davison Army Airfield at nearby Fort Belvoir, and from there to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, where there is a large mortuary created for use in wartime. FBI agents accompany the remains at all points during transportation. [American Forces Press Service, 9/15/2001; PBS, 9/21/2001; Soldiers, 10/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C-55] About 250 people, including 50 medical examiners and 50 members of the FBI’s ‘disaster team,’ work at the mortuary to identify the remains. [Stars and Stripes, 9/17/2001] Remains are first scanned for the presence of unexploded ordnance or metallic foreign bodies. FBI experts then collect trace evidence to find any chemicals from explosives, and also conduct fingerprint identifications. [Pentagram, 11/30/2001] Other techniques used include dental records and X-rays. Tissue samples are sent to an Armed Forces laboratory in Rockville, Maryland, for DNA analysis. [PBS, 9/21/2001] Identification is problematic because specimens are often unrecognizable body parts, and are nearly always mixed with debris composed of aircraft and building materials. [Harcke, Bifano, and Koeller, 4/2002] However, by the time Dover staff formally end their identification effort, on November 16, they have identified remains of 184 of the 189 people who died in the Pentagon or aboard Flight 77, including the five hijackers (see November 21, 2001). [Washington Post, 11/21/2001]
Human remains from the Flight 93 crash site are moved to a temporary morgue that has been set up at the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory, several miles away in Friedens. High-tech mortuary equipment has been brought to the armory in a tractor-trailer. [Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, 9/12/2001 ; WTAE-TV, 9/13/2001] 75 to 100 specialists, including pathologists and fingerprint experts, are involved in the attempt to identify the remains. Forensic anthropologist Dennis Dirkmaat says that because the remains have suffered “extreme fragmentation,” most will need to be identified using DNA analysis. [Washington Post, 9/14/2001] When remains cannot be identified at the temporary morgue, samples are sent on to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Maryland, where samples from the Pentagon crash are also being analyzed (see September 11-November 16, 2001). [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/25/2001; Stars and Stripes, 10/8/2001; KCRA, 12/20/2001] By December 19, the remains of all 40 passengers and crew from Flight 93 have been identified, using fingerprints, dental records, and DNA. Investigators have, by a process of elimination, also been able to isolate genetic profiles of the four hijackers. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/30/2001; DMORT National News, 1/2002; Associated Press, 2/26/2002; Stripe, 9/20/2002] Searchers recovered about 510 pounds of human remains at the crash scene, equaling about eight percent of the total bodyweight on the plane. According to Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller, everything else was vaporized. [Washington Post, 5/12/2002 ; Age (Melbourne), 9/9/2002; Canadian Press, 3/28/2004]
The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory logo. [Source: Armed Forces Institure of Pathology]The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) publishes a report on the examination of DNA of the presumed hijackers of Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon on 9/11, and Flight 93, which went down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The hijackers’ DNA is identified by a process of elimination, i.e. it is presumed to be that which does not match the samples provided by the passengers’ relatives. Samples are not requested from the hijackers’ families (see After September 11, 2001), but it is determined that the DNA may have come from Middle Eastern men, although in two cases current but not very comprehensive databases indicate they are more likely to come from Europeans. Also, the DNA samples from the Pentagon indicate that two of the presumed hijackers may well have been brothers. Presumably this refers to Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi. [Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, 1/2004, pp. 82-84 ]
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