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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 20, 2024


March 1, 2002 – Six days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, St. Thomas dentist Susan Anderson found herself in New York putting her professional expertise to work in the daunting challenge to identify the remains of victims removed from the ruins.
That day, it took a five-hour bus ride to get her to the Ground Zero morgue, where she would join in the task of identifying the dead through dental records. At the end of that first day, Anderson said, she decided to walk the three miles back to the place where she was staying.
As she approached a street corner, she noticed a policeman standing there. There was a cop on every corner, so she asked this one what he was doing. He told her he was there to make sure the emergency vehicles could get through.
A van approached the corner. "Oh, there's my buddy!" the officer exclaimed. "He got out of that place!"
"That place" was, of course, the World Trade Center. On Sept. 11, there were a lot of cops and their buddies who went into the twin towers but never came out. There, on that corner, two of them were seeing each other for the first time since the day of the attacks.
As Anderson watched, the two friends caught each other in a brotherly embrace. They laughed and they cried, and the dentist said she felt a tear in her eye.
On Wednesday, those who attended a Rotary East meeting on St. Thomas to hear of Anderson's mission in New York after its most fateful day sat frozen in their seats, hanging on her every word.
After years of practicing dentistry on St. Thomas, Anderson told them, she became interested in forensics, the science of identifying the dead through their dental impressions. Her studies led her from home two years ago, to an appointment as deputy coroner of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.
Her recently acquired expertise qualified Anderson to serve on one of five DMORT teams assigned the task of sorting through the human wreckage in the aftermath of Sept. 11. "I was called about three days after the event and was able to go in on the 16th," she said. "You train for these things, but you never hope to use" the skills. "And if you use them, you hope that you are adequately trained."
As part of her Rotary presentation, Anderson showed slides of the World Trade Center collapse, dust-encrusted people who had escaped, and vigils held throughout the city a few days later. Pictured at one firehouse, near the photographs of 15 dead firefighters, was a sign that read, "… You Ran In when We All Ran Out, And for That We are Forever Grateful."
Since that first visit, Anderson has returned to Ground Zero and the ongoing task of reuniting the lost with their loved ones. "The first time I saw the body bag opened, I was stunned beyond belief," she said, but the thought that families were waiting to find out who the people were gave her the strength to perform her grim duties.
As of Feb. 19, she said, recovery teams had processed 14,687 remains from the World Trade Center ruins. From those remains, it was possible to identify 727 people. More than half of those, she said, were identifed through their dental records.

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