The 9/11 victims who have never been identified, nearly two decades on

Eighteen years after the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, the nation is still grappling with the aftermath at the site now known as ground zero.

In 2001, a series of planes were hijacked by 19 militants linked with terrorist group al-Qaeda, with two crashing into the World Trade Centre in Manhattan.

Not including the hijackers, a total of 2753 people were killed in the New York attacks - mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and first responders.

While over the past 18 years the victims have been remembered on the anniversary of the attacks, with the names of those killed etched in the ground zero memorial, a number of people have remained unidentified.

Almost 3000 people were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Source: AP

But a lab in New York is trying to resurrect their memory and has been working for almost two decades to identify the remains of Jane and John Does.

More than 1100 victims are yet to be identified and Mark Desire, the assistant director of the department of forensic biology at the medical examiner’s office, told Spectrum News 13 that DNA had been seriously damaged in the attack making it hard to identify victims.

The names of 9/11 victims etched into the ground zero memorial. Source: AAP

But now with new technology, there is an improved chance the remains will be identified as they can “pulverise the bone material to a very fine powder, which will give us access to much more cells than we (had) in the past”.

However, scientists say that some remains may never be identified because they need DNA samples from families to match it to the victim.

‘We can’t forget’

Chundera Epps, the sister of a September 11 victim, attends memorial ceremonies on each anniversary.

“People say, ‘Why do you stand here, year after year?” she said.

“Because soldiers are still dying for our freedom. First responders are still dying and being ill.

“We can’t forget. Life won’t let us forget.”

Fire and smoke billows from the north tower of the World Trade Centre in 2001. Source: AAP

Anniversary ceremonies centre on remembering the nearly 3000 people killed when the hijacked planes rammed into the trade centre, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, in the US state of Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.

All those victims’ names are read aloud at a ground zero ceremony, where moments of silence and tolling bells mark the moments when the aircraft crashed and the twin towers fell.

But there has been growing awareness in recent years of the suffering of another group of people tied to the tragedy: firefighters, police and others who died or fell ill after exposure to the wreckage and the toxins unleashed in it.

The sick gained new recognition this year at the memorial plaza at ground zero, where the new 9/11 Memorial Glade was erected.

A man mourns a his cousin at ground zero. Source: AAP

The tribute features six large stacks of granite inlaid with salvaged trade centre steel, with a dedication “to those whose actions in our time of need led to their injury, sickness, and death”. No one is named specifically.

Some 9/11 memorials elsewhere already included sickened rescue, recovery and cleanup workers, and there is a remembrance wall entirely focused on them in Nesconset, on Long Island.

But those who fell ill or were injured, and their families, say having a tribute at ground zero carries special significance.

September 11 is known not only as a day for remembrance and patriotism, but also as a day of service.

People around the country continue to volunteer at food banks, schools, home-building projects, park cleanups and other charitable endeavours on and near the anniversary.

With Associated Press

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