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Profile: Wallace Miller

Wallace Miller was a participant or observer in the following events:

Wallace Miller.Wallace Miller. [Source: Steve Mellon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]Wallace Miller, the coroner of Somerset County, who is one of the first people to arrive at the Flight 93 crash scene, is surprised by the absence of human remains at the site. He will later say: “If you didn’t know, you would have thought no one was on the plane. You would have thought they dropped them off somewhere.” (Longman 2002, pp. 217) The only recognizable body part Miller sees is a piece of spinal cord with five vertebrae attached. He will tell Australian newspaper The Age: “I’ve seen a lot of highway fatalities where there’s fragmentation. The interesting thing about this particular case is that I haven’t, to this day, 11 months later, seen any single drop of blood. Not a drop.” (Wright 9/9/2002) Dave Fox, a former firefighter, also arrives early at the crash scene, but sees just three chunks of human tissue. He will comment, “You knew there were people there, but you couldn’t see them.” (Frederick 9/11/2002) Yet, in the following weeks, hundreds of searchers will find about 1,500 scorched human tissue samples, weighing less than 600 pounds—approximately eight percent of the total body mass on Flight 93. Months after 9/11, more remains will be found in a secluded cabin, several hundred yards from the crash site. (Perl 5/12/2002)

Human remains from the Flight 93 crash site are moved to a temporary morgue that has been set up at the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory, several miles away in Friedens. High-tech mortuary equipment has been brought to the armory in a tractor-trailer. (Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency 9/12/2001 pdf file; WTAE-TV 9/13/2001) 75 to 100 specialists, including pathologists and fingerprint experts, are involved in the attempt to identify the remains. Forensic anthropologist Dennis Dirkmaat says that because the remains have suffered “extreme fragmentation,” most will need to be identified using DNA analysis. (Snyder and Shaver 9/14/2001) When remains cannot be identified at the temporary morgue, samples are sent on to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Maryland, where samples from the Pentagon crash are also being analyzed (see September 11-November 16, 2001). (Lash 9/25/2001; Oliva 10/8/2001; KCRA 12/20/2001) By December 19, the remains of all 40 passengers and crew from Flight 93 have been identified, using fingerprints, dental records, and DNA. Investigators have, by a process of elimination, also been able to isolate genetic profiles of the four hijackers. (Levin 12/30/2001; Shepardson 1/2002; Associated Press 2/26/2002; Stripe 9/20/2002) Searchers recovered about 510 pounds of human remains at the crash scene, equaling about eight percent of the total bodyweight on the plane. According to Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller, everything else was vaporized. (Perl 5/12/2002; Wright 9/9/2002; Crawford 3/28/2004)

A report suggests the crash site of Flight 93 is being searched and recorded in 60 square-foot grids. (Billington 9/16/2001) This approach is preferred by Wallace Miller, the local coroner, and Dennis Dirkmaat, a forensic anthropologist involved in searching the crash site. According to journalist and author Jere Longman, “The distribution patterns developed from such precise marking of airplane parts, remains and personal effects might have told them such things as exactly how the airplane struck the ground. Theoretically, by associating the location of particular remains with the location of parts of the airplane, they may have also gained some clues about which passengers had rushed the cockpit.” However, almost a year later Longman reports that this approach was not followed: “The FBI overruled them, instead dividing the site into five large sectors. It would be too time-consuming to mark tight grids, and would serve no real investigative purpose, the bureau decided. There was no mystery to solve about the crash. Everybody knew what happened to the plane.” (Longman 2002, pp. 262) While the FBI claims there is no mystery, some news articles suggest the plane was shot down. (For example, (Bunch 11/15/2001; Carlin 8/13/2002) ) In addition, at the time of this decision, investigators are still considering the possibility that a bomb might have destroyed the plane (see September 14, 2001). Unlike every other major airplane crash in modern history, no National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation is being conducted into the crash of Flight 93 (see After September 11, 2001). (Lappe and Marshall 2004, pp. 40-41)

Wallace Miller, the coroner in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed on 9/11, is contacted by an uncle of one of the Flight 93 hijackers, who asks him if any remains of his nephew have been recovered. According to Miller: “I got a call from Beirut at 4 a.m. He said he was an uncle of one of them and wanted to know what the situation was. I said if he sent a DNA sample, we’d make a cross-reference to confirm, but I never heard anything more from him.” In 2008, Miller will say that he cannot recall the name of the caller or who his nephew was. However, only one of the Flight 93 hijackers—Ziad Jarrah—was from Beirut, while the others were apparently Saudis (see 1980s and 1990s). Miller will say that the uncle’s inquiry was apparently prompted by a British or South African journalist who had put the man on the phone after interviewing him about the events of 9/11. This appears to be the only attempt ever made by a relative to claim the remains of a hijacker (see September 21, 2008). (Hamill 9/21/2008)


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