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America's New War: What are Families of Dead Going Through

Aired September 19, 2001 - 06:47   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: In New York, hope is dwindling in the tireless search for survivors. The official death toll now stands at 218, and of that number, 152 people have been identified. And when we saw those figures, a lot of questions occurred to us about what families may be going through, and what the officials, who are trying to reconcile families with what may have happened to their loved ones, also occurred to us.

So we're going to talk this morning with criminologist, Casey Jordan. She is quite familiar with the process of DNA identification.

And we understand -- we thank you for coming in and talking with us this morning, Casey -- good to see you.

CASEY JORDAN, CRIMINOLOGIST: Pleasure to be here.

HARRIS: Yes, I can't imagine a much more difficult process for a family to have to go through to wait for something like this to happen.

Can you give us an idea of what's involved with this, and how long it takes, and how long a family may have to wait to get a final confirmation?

JORDAN: Well, a lot of that is going to depend on how much cooperation and coordination exists between the medical examiner's office, the actual labs who will conduct DNA testing, and how helpful the families can be in providing a known reference sample, so that we can match the actual tissue or bone samples found at the site to known samples of people who are missing. It's matching...

HARRIS: But we heard earlier this week that family members were asked to bring in toothbrushes and hairbrushes for that.

JORDAN: Yes, there are three primary sources that we can most easily discern the DNA: hairbrushes, because of course you can get DNA from a hair follicle; toothbrushes, which may have saliva residue; and if the missing person has two living parents, you can easily take a DNA sample simply by swabbing the inside of their cheeks, and from both of those parents discern the DNA.

Lacking two living parents, you can also -- though it's a little more complicated -- use a living parent and a sibling. But then you have to do a little bit more typing to get the actual DNA reconstructed to like a reverse paternity.

HARRIS: Is any one method more accurate than the other?

JORDAN: Well, yes. Some of them are. The FBI lab has the ability to do mitochondrial DNA, which is the most accurate, but it's a far more complicated process. That would be a process that you would reserve for the most difficult of samples. Bones can be extremely difficult to get DNA from unless they are large bones, like femurs, which may have had a big blood supply.

But I do believe that all of the local state forensic labs -- Connecticut and New Jersey and New York -- are on standby, ready to help with this process. And I believe that private labs will probably be used as well, because they have far more robotic technology that can do the processing much more quickly.

HARRIS: Yes, well, let me ask you about that then. If there were that many different offices or that many different laboratories that are working on it, where is this central information kept? Because I'm assuming that somehow at some point what's got to happen is that samples are taken from whatever site, and that the laboratories that are all working have got to be submitting their findings, and they've got to be reconciled somehow.

JORDAN: Right. I don't know the specifics on how it's going to be coordinated, although I suspect that the local medical examiner's office in New York is going to work extremely closely with the FBI forensics lab. And together, they're going to essentially farm out the DNA processing to local labs in terms of private labs and state labs, and try to get it all back to a central clearing unit.

As far as I know, the unit is just now being constructed in terms of how that processing is going to be coordinated, so that family members can be notified in a proper manner.

HARRIS: Well, that means actually that family members may have to be waiting for some time that if they're just now starting to assemble all of that, and considering the number of different samples that are going to be taken away from that site, this could be some time in the waiting for the families, could it not?

JORDAN: Yes, it can be. I know that normally if you send out for a DNA sample from a private lab, you could wait a month or two for the results to come back. And even then, that would be at a cost of $2,000 to $3,000. If these labs step up the processing and have tag teams working, two to three processors working in 12-hour shifts around the clock, and you incorporate private labs, which use robotics, the process could take several weeks, up to a month, maybe two months.

But you have to keep in mind this all depends on how many samples we're able to actually get from the site. And I think that it's actually very unlikely that we'll end up with 5,000 samples. And you have to keep in mind that many of those samples may actually type back to the same missing person. So you may be doing processing of the same person and replicating efforts at some point. HARRIS: Wow! That could -- that is a heck of a puzzle that they've got to work with down there.

Well, Casey, thank you very much for coming in and talking this morning -- Casey Jordan, criminologist -- we appreciate your insight this morning.

JORDAN: Always happy to be here.

HARRIS: Take care.

JORDAN: Thanks.

HARRIS: We'll talk with you some other time.

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