Call for hearings on victims' remains

Emergency personnel look for victims and fight fires

Emergency personnel look for victims and fight fires in the ruins of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, after a terrorist attack leveled both buildings in Manhattan. (Credit: Robert Mecea)

Families of 9/11 victims yesterday called for congressional hearings to establish federal protocols for handling human remains after disasters such as the terror acts that took thousands of lives in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

At a Manhattan news conference near the Sept. 11 memorial, family members spoke days after Pentagon officials revealed that partial remains of several victims were incinerated by a military contractor and sent to a landfill.

The families said they oppose a plan to place unidentified remains of the New York victims in an underground repository at bedrock that they say "desecrates" the memory of their loved ones.

"Are our loved ones' remains marketable?" asked Rosaleen Tallon, sister of firefighter Sean Tallon, who died in the attack.

She held up a gift keychain inscribed with "No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory" -- the same words that grace a granite memorial wall 70 feet underground. The unidentified remains are to be placed behind it as part of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

Norman Siegel, the attorney for 9/11 Parents & Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims -- a group that has sued New York City over the plans -- said they had sent queries to families asking their opinion. He said of 350 responses, 95 percent expressed opposition to the repository.

Seventeen families have sued the city, demanding that officials ask relatives of victims what they would like done with the unidentified remains. The group lost, but is appealing.

The group members would like to see the remains encased in a kind of "tomb of the unknown soldier" -- above ground as part of the memorial.

The remains of more than 1,100 of the 2,753 victims killed at the World Trade Center have not been identified. The remains are under the jurisdiction of the city's chief medical examiner's office, and even in a repository, they would be available for analysis in the future using any scientific advances.

The wall would separate the museum from the repository. An adjacent room will be reserved for family members for visits by private appointment.

The Sept. 11 memorial was dedicated on the 10th anniversary of the attacks last September.

Work on the planned museum has ground to a halt because of a financial dispute, and there is now no possibility it will open on time next year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said recently.

Yesterday, the group said it would ask Congress to hold hearings to establish protocols on handling the remains of victims of large-scale disasters.

Siegel said group members would contact New York legislators today to suggest hearings on how the unidentified remains of Sept. 11 victims are being been handled.

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