How Do Unnamed Victims Become Identified?
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How Do Unnamed Victims Become Identified?

How are victims identified?
Terrorism and mass disasters are happening with increased frequency on our planet. Many people loose their loved ones to these tragic events. The horror of not knowing if the one you love is alive is devastating. A sticky, ugly part of this scene is that the family can not claim their loved one as deceased and move on without a death certificate. That means mom has to survive without dad's income and without the provisions he had set- up for her in the event of his death. A sad, horrible situation. Bringing closure to families and providing proof for death certificates are why some people give of their time and expertise to identify victims.

First there must be a tragic event. It's tragic if only one or thousands of persons are involved.  In a car fire one may be burned beyond recognition. An aircraft mishap having a few hundred passengers.  An act of terror where thousands are effected. Each event posses it's own set of challenges. However, the case of a victim of a car fire is more easily closed than those involved in a act of terror. One can be fairly certain whom was in the car. Next of kin is contacted by the local authorities. Information on where dental records can be found is offered and obtained. Antemortem, or before death, record of the suspect individual has been established. For mass disasters the process is more involved. Many stations are set up to gain information. There is a Victim Identification Unit. This is where families can come to give and receive information or console. This unit is made of individuals from many back-rounds; Police, DNA specialists, dental specialists, theologists, Psycologists. It takes extremely special people to care for and assist families of victims.  

The victim is respectfully handled at a morgue. Dependant on the size of the tragedy the morgue may have several stations housing many specialists. Anthropologists may be present also. Identification through bone markings. However, postmortem, or after death, before full body radiographs and photographs are taken the victim is given a reference number. This number stays with the victim until the victim is positively identified.  Any identifiable features, as well as, personal effects that accompanying the victim are photographed and recorded on the victim's chart. Dependant on the extent of the body damage from the untimely event the person is then either sent to finger print or dental section. 

Dental Odontologists will review the victim chart. The Odontologist will view the photographs and examine the contents of the victim for any dental related item. Radiographs of the victim's teeth are taken. The existing condition of the victims teeth is recorded, or charted. The postmortem dental chart will show missing teeth and where restorations are placed in existing teeth. This information is entered into a special software developed specifically for dental identification. 

Antemortem and postmortem data are entered into this software. The computer program suggests potential matches. It is the job of the odontologist to view these records and find the matches. Most dental personnel can help with the search however legally only a licensed dentist may conclude that the match is positive. Once the dentist has this information he or she must concur, or agree, with another licensed dentist to the positive identification. So, two licensed dentists must agree that the victim they have in the morgue is indeed the same as the missing persons. Once these dentists agree they must have a medical examiner sign off and issue the death certificate.

It takes many hours of detailed work to coordinate these efforts. I certainly hope tragedy never occurs in your family but if it does please know there are people that care. 

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