Thursday, January 18, 2018

Quest to ID remains brings mystery after mudslide

EVERETT, Wash. — As medical examiners painstakingly piece together the identities and lives of the 29 people known killed when a mudslide wiped out a small Washington community, one mystery troubles them.

One set of remains does not fit with the description on the missing persons list, which as of Wednesday included 18 people.

The medical examiners know it is a male. But his remains give no clue as to who he was, or who might be looking for him. They can't even identify his age range. Without possible family members to compare, DNA tests are useless. At this point, gold teeth are all they have to go on.

The mystery underscores the tedious process of identifying remains more than a week after the March 22 landslide that broke off a steep hill, roared across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River and buried a community at Oso, about 55 miles north of Seattle.

Like the homes, the cars and the other parts of people's lives swept away by the torrent of mud, some bodies are in pieces.

Norman Thiersch, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner, said the goal of the team — which is made up of medical examiners, detectives, dentists and others — is to make sure there's no doubt as to the identities of the victims.

"This is not television," he said. "These are methodical, painstaking processes we go through."

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