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Mass casualty identification through DNA analysis: overview, problems and pitfalls

Perlin, M.W. Mass casualty identification through DNA analysis: overview, problems and pitfalls. Forensic Investigation and Management of Mass Disasters. M. I. Okoye and C. H. Wecht. Tucson, AZ, Lawyers & Judges Publishing Co: 23-30, 2007.


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Abstract: When people die in a mass disaster, they leave behind biological material. This biological material may be their entire body, or body parts. One important task of mass casualty identification is to identify these victim remains by associating them with missing people. Identification of victim remains from a mass casualty site is critical for bringing closure to family and loved ones.

A complementary forensic task is to identify the people who are missing after a mass casualty, and associate them with victim remains. These missing people typically leave behind biological material in their homes and with their families. One source of biological material for missing people is their personal effects, such as toothbrushes, hairbrushes and clothing. Another source of biological material is the missing people's family references, since relatives have biological features which are similar to those of the missing person.

The key task of mass casualty identification is to match the biological material from the mass casualty site to the missing people. This is done by identifying the biological features of each of the victim remains found at the mass casualty site. Separately, the biological features of the personal effects and of the family references are analyzed to form a biological profile of each missing person. By comparing the biological features of each of the victim remains against those of each of the missing people, a match may be obtained between a particular victim remain found at the mass casualty site and one of the missing people.