Jim Riches pulled his son's mangled body out of the rubble at the World Trade Center, but the phone calls still filtered in years afterward. The city kept finding more pieces of his son.
"They'll call you and they'll tell you, 'We found a shin bone,'" Riches said. "Or: 'We found an arm bone.' We held them all together and then we put them in the cemetery."
Those are the phone calls both dreaded and hoped for among the families of Sept. 11 victims. And as investigators began sifting through newly uncovered debris from the World Trade Center on Monday for the first time in three years, those anxieties were renewed more than a decade after the attacks. But there was also hope that more victims might yet be identified after tens of millions have been spent on the painstaking identification process.
"We would like to see the other 40 per cent of the families who have never recovered anything to at least someday have a piece of their loved one," Riches said. "That they can go to a cemetery and pray."
About 60 truckloads of debris that could contain tiny fragments of bone or tissue were unearthed by construction crews that have been working on the new World Trade Center in recent years. That material is now being transported to a park built on top of the former Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, where investigators will attempt to identify any possible remains during the next 10 weeks, the city said.
The city's last sifting effort ended in 2010. This time, crews were able to dig up parts of the trade centre site that were previously inaccessible to workers, the city said.
Some 2,750 people died at the World Trade Center in the 2001 terrorist attacks, but only 1,634 people have been identified.
"We have been monitoring the World Trade Center site over time and monitoring the construction," said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office. "And if they see any material that could possibly contain human remains, we collect that material."
About 9,000 human remains recovered from the ruins of the World Trade Center remain unidentified because they are too degraded to match victims by DNA identification. The remains are stored at an undisclosed location monitored by the medical examiner's office and will eventually be transferred to a subterranean chamber at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
Some victims' families expressed impatience that the city has only just uncovered more debris.
"Quite frankly, they should've excavated this and searched it 12 years ago," said Diane Horning, whose son, Matthew, died in the attacks. "Instead, they built service roads and construction roads and were more worried about the building and the tourism than they were about the human remains."