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Coroner identifies seven more victims of Flight 93 crash

Monday, September 24, 2001

By Brian Lyman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Seven victims of the Sept. 11 United Airlines Flight 93 crash in Somerset County were positively identified over the weekend, bringing the number of identified bodies to 11.

But Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller said that additional identifications could take months. There were 44 passengers and crew members on the flight.

"We're in the process of notifying families," said Miller near the crash scene yesterday. "We're continuing the identification process as we speak."

The coroner's office was able to identify victims with help from FBI fingerprint experts, but Miller said they did not release identifications until investigators were all "comfortable" with the identity of each victim.

Four bodies had been identified as of Friday.

Miller would not name the victims, or say whether they were crew or passengers, saying his "No. 1 priority" was protecting the privacy of families.

"The identifications up to now were not [based on] DNA," said Miller. "The method now will be [to use] DNA [testing]."

That testing might slow the process down because DNA samples from victims must be tested against family samples, and the coroner's office has not yet contacted all of the families of the victims. Miller said he was "working day and night" to get in touch with them.

In addition, the terrorist attacks have swamped DNA testing centers in the nation.

"It could take weeks; it could take months," said Miller. "We are receiving the same priority as the other sites."

Most evidence from the site has been taken away, he said.

"Everything's been collected from the site that's going to be," he said.

The coroner also said he was working as hard as he could to return remains to family members.

"A lot of legal work needs to be done," said Miller.

It is a difficult task, he said, in part because Somerset, a sixth-class county with only 78,000 people, has little support staff.

"We don't have staff doing it; I'm doing it," said Miller.

Miller called bringing closure to families "a critical part of any investigation," and added that he had been "touched by the emotional strength" of families he'd been in touch with.

That made the help of outside investigators, including pathologists from Honolulu and Washington, D.C., all the more valuable.

"I've accumulated a wealth of information," said Miller.

Visitors trickled around a makeshift memorial throughout the day yesterday, leaving flowers and flags at the scene.

The FBI plans a news conference on the investigation of the scene today.

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