Staten Island father’s 9/11 ache is ever fresh

By Tracey Porpora Staten Island Advance

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The only touchstones Bill Doyle has as regards his son, Joseph, then a 25-year-old bond supervisor at Cantor Fitzgerald who perished on 9/11, are his driver’s license, American Express card and two club cards from his wallet. They were found amid debris from the World Trade Center site and brought to the former Fresh Kills landfill after the terrorist attacks.

Bill Doyle speaks on behalf of 9/11 families in the nation's capital in 2005.The Washington Post

Bill Doyle speaks on behalf of 9/11 families in the nation’s capital in 2005. The Washington Post

Since September 11, 2001, there have been three sifting operations, each meticulously combing through mounds of World Trade Center rubble, trying to find remains of 9/11 victims. The most current operation, which began April 1 and is expected to last another four to six weeks at the former landfill, has unearthed 82 potential human remains, including the one recovered on Friday.

The sifting operation will resume on Monday.

For the last 12 years, Doyle, a former Annadale resident, has eagerly awaited a call from the medical examiner’s office with the word that some of his son’s remains have been recovered.

He still has hope.

But he believes the sifting operation should have been ongoing since 9/11.

“I used to go to the landfill every day. … They should have been doing this [the sifting operation] all along. … 

“I have some soil from Ground Zero that was given to every 9/11 family. That, and the few items from his wallet, are all I have to remember Joey,” said Doyle, whose wife, Camille, died last year at age 62.

While none of the remains found during the sifting operations have yet to match Joseph Doyle’s DNA — supplied to the medical examiner’s office in 2002 — there have been 1,635 positive identifications of 9/11 victims made through DNA testing, dental X-rays, fingerprints, photos and even tattoos. In total, 884 victims have been identified solely through DNA, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office.

“We made a promise to the [9/11 victims'] families in 2001 that we would keep trying to identify their loved ones. As long as there’s technology available to test, retest and make identifications, we will do it,” said Ms. Borakove.

There are still 1,118 World Trade Center victims — including Joseph Doyle — whose remains have yet to be found or identified. 

THE PROCESS 

After potential remains are collected at Fresh Kills, they are sent to an anthropology lab in Manhattan.

“When we find a fragment during the sifting operation, it is taken to our anthropology lab. The anthropologists take a look, confirm that it’s a human remain, photograph it, give it a case number and forward the fragments over to our forensic biology lab, hopefully for identification,” said Ms. Borakove.

The process to match human remains to DNA can take several months, she said, noting that in addition to testing the human remains for a DNA match, the medical examiner’s office conducts “consistent” retesting of remains.

Since January 2006, a total of 6,314 bone samples have been selected for DNA retesting and 1,912 additional specimens have been recovered, according to a medical examiner’s May 1 report. This results in a total of 8,226 samples that require DNA testing. As of the report, 2,499 remains have been linked by DNA to known individuals, and 5,727 remains are in various stages of testing.

Between January 2006 and April 2013, a total of 1,845 potential human remains have been reported as part of recovery operations.

“We constantly test and retest remains,” she said, noting that on April 17, through DNA retesting of remains recovered during a 2002 sifting operation, a 55-year-old male victim was positively identified. This was the most recent identification made by the city medical examiner’s office.

“The retesting is done because there are a variety of ways to conduct DNA testing,” said Ms. Borakove. “We are abstracting the DNA from bones, so we try to create a full profile. We go back if we had a partial profile to see if we can get some more to make a complete profile, and make a positive identification,” said Ms. Borakove.

She was unable to provide the number of Staten Island 9/11 victims identified through DNA testing, or the number of Islanders who remain unidentified.

Once remains are identified, families have the option of claiming them, or they can choose to have the remains added to one of the city’s 9/11 memorials, she said. “We are very flexible. The families can change their minds back and forth any time they want,” she said.

He would accept his son’s remains, Bill Doyle said, and bury them at a gravesite with that of his wife’s at Resurrection Cemetery, Pleasant Plains.

“I would like to have something to put in the cemetery,” said Doyle. “My wife had hoped they would find Joey’s remains. She used to have nightmares and would tell me that Joey came to her in her dreams, saying, ‘My body lies over the ocean.’”

Family members of 9/11 victims can still supply DNA to the medical examiner’s office. For more information, call, 212-447-7884. 

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