17 Years After The Attack On The Twin Towers, This Victim’s Remains Have At Last Been Identified

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On the morning of September 11, 2001, the world as we knew it irrevocably changed. The attack on the Twin Towers left America understandably shell-shocked. Even now, close to two decades later, there are still those sifting through the resultant wreckage. However, in July 2018 that hard work continued to pay off, as one of the victim’s remains was finally identified.

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Like thousands of New Yorkers, Scott Michael Johnson made his way into work on the morning of September 11th, 2001. Indeed, Johnson was headed for Manhattan’s World Trade Center. The 26-year-old was in fact an employee of Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, an investment banking firm. Located in the south tower, Scott spent his days on the 89th floor working as a financial analyst.

Image: via The Independent

In the aftermath of the attack, the New York City Medical Examiner’s office was tasked with naming the countless number of unidentified victims. At that point, the department made a promise to all of the families stuck in a horrible limbo. It offered reassurance that they would work tirelessly to identify their lost family members. Unfortunately, Scott’s parents, Ann and Tom, were among that heartbroken group.

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While working with the rubble at Ground Zero, a team from the Medical Examiner’s office found a bone. As with all remains found at the site, the team was hopeful of discovering the victim’s identity. And with the assistant director of forensic biology, Mark Desire, by their side, the group got to work. However, this discovery proved to be quite a frustrating challenge.

Image: Fred W. Baker III via United States Department of Defense

However, the sample was very small. And due to its size, Desire and his associates struggled to extract the amount of DNA necessary to identify the victim. Despite this setback, though, the team didn’t give up. Indeed, they continued to test the bone over the years, making a number of different attempts.

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However, as time went on, the process of identifying DNA samples from bone fragments greatly improved with new technology. With these refined techniques in place, Desire and his team followed three intriguing steps to try and solve this mystery.

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To extract DNA from a bone fragment, the sample must first be crushed into powder. With the improved technology at their disposal, though, the team was able to use high-velocity ball bearings to create a fine dust. According to Desire, that meant more DNA could be drawn from the sample.

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Image: Fred W. Baker III via United States Department of Defense

However, even with those technological advances, the amount of extracted DNA still wouldn’t be sufficient to find a match. So, with that in mind, the team attempted to make a copy of the sample using a certain enzyme. After trying on three occasions, Desire and his colleagues had enough material to create a DNA profile.

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Following that step, the team then consulted the vast database at the Medical Examiner’s office, hoping to find a match. Indeed, that database contains over 17,000 DNA samples, taken from the victims and the waiting families. At this stage, they made the crucial breakthrough.

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After 17 years of incredibly hard work, the city of New York confirmed that the bone belonged to Scott Michael Johnson. That confimation made him the 1,642nd identified victim of the terror attack. However, according to Chief Medical Examiner, Barbara Sampson, the work of her office isn’t over yet.

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“In 2001, we made a commitment to the families of victims that we would do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to identify their loved ones,” Sampson read in a statement in July 2018. “This identification is the result of the tireless dedication of our staff to this ongoing mission.”

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Indeed, this “mission” has remained at the forefront of Sampson’s thinking since becoming the boss of the Medical Examiner’s office back in 2014. Indeed, knowing the importance of their efforts, she takes great pride in what her colleagues try to do. “We feel a sacred obligation to continue our work,” the chief told The New York Times newspaper in July 2018.

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Prior to Scott’s identification, though, the last victim of the attack to be identified was back in August 2017. Of the estimated 2,753 deaths from 9/11, over 1,000 victims remain unidentified, proving just how important Sampson’s stance is. As for Desire, he opened up when talking about the continued work of the office on that front.

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“As a forensic scientist, you’re trained to be neutral and unbiased,” Desire told The New York Times. “But with the World Trade Center investigation, it’s a different kind of case. When you meet with the families, and [you get] the hugs and the thank yous, it gets emotional. And it really helps with that drive to keep improving that [identification] process.”

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The assistant director then cast his mind back to the initial struggles he faced after the terror attack, as his office found identifying the victims incredibly tough. With that in mind, though, DNA testing technology has vastly improved as a direct result of that hard work.

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“We are far ahead of where we would have been if not for the necessity of making these identifications,” Desire explained. Meanwhile, Scott’s parents finally got the closure that they craved for so long. Indeed, Ann and Tom also spoke of their gratitude for the efforts the city made in identifying their son.

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“Having said that, [the news] made me cry. And when I told our daughter, we sat there and both cried,” Ann said The New York Times of the confirmation call she had received. “You get pulled right back into it. And it also means there’s a finality. Somehow I always thought [Scott] would just walk up and say, ‘Here I am. I had amnesia.’”

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Following the attack, Scott’s father joined National September 11 Memorial Museum’s board of directors. However, Tom found it very difficult to take much solace from the news about his son. Talking to the The New York Times he said the news “was just a reminder” of what his family have been through since the awful events of that day.

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“[Scott’s] friends reported at his memorial service on the incredible love and support that he gave to them, that in a sense went even beyond our understanding of him,” Tom told the New York Times. “He was one of the kindest people that anyone around him had ever known. The pain of losing someone like that was tremendous.”

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Image: via NJ

Despite Scott’s identification, Ann and Tom hadn’t planned an additional memorial service, having already held one. As for their differing responses to the news, that comes as little surprise. Indeed, while the likes of Desire and Sampson continue to work hard for the cause, the results will always be bittersweet.

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