Here's How Many Victims Were Recovered From 9/11

When hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 planes crashed into New York City's Word Trade Center towers on September 11th, 2001, the world changed forever. Of the 2,753 people who were killed in the towers, 403 were NYC firefighters, police officers and Port Authority officers (per CNN). There were at least 220 more people killed when another plane crashed near the Pentagon (via History). 

According to Science Direct, jet fuel was the initial cause of the fires in the tower, but the fuel itself would have burned off completely very quickly if not for the hollow construction of the towers, which allowed the fuel to penetrate deep into the structure, weakening the metal supporting the buildings. In fact, the fires were not completely extinguished until late December, over three months after the attack. 

As a result, the bodies of many of those who died in the towers could not be recovered. As reported by Science Direct, the temperature inside the towers reached up to 1000 °C, melting metal and reducing many of the bodies completely to ash. According to New Scientist, more than 21,800 body parts, along with skin and bone fragments were recovered from the rubble –- some of them years after the towers fell — but it's impossible to tell how many bodies those fragments belong to. By 2011, a decade after the attack, only 1632 of the 2753 victims had been identified. Though DNA profiling has continued to evolve since then, the remains have also continued to deteriorate.

Identifying the victims

While traditional DNA analysis technology is very good at creating a DNA profile from human remains (and then comparing that to relatives or medical records to identify a person), the skin and bone remains from the WTC attack provided only partial or degraded profiles. But since the attack, new DNA technology has helped identify more victims (per New Scientist).

Even with the new techniques available, CNN reported that by October 2019, only 1,645 (60%) of the WTC victims had been positively identified. While the medical examiner's office still have the partial remains of many other people who were killed that day, identifying them has remained difficult. Some of the last remains identified included a 43-year-old woman whose name was not released. In 2013 she was identified "based on DNA testing of debris" (as reported via NY1). The same year, the medical examiner's office also identified victim No. 1,637, FDNY firefighter Lt. Jeffrey P. Walz (via CNN).

Between 2017 and 2019, the medical examiner's office was able to identify several other victims through the DNA retesting of remains, according to CNN. And just before the 20th anniversary of the attacks in September 2021, the medical examiner's office confirmed they had been able to identify the 1,646th and 1,647th victims using new DNA forensic technology. As of today, more than 1,100 victims (40% of those who died in the towers) have yet to be identified. The forensic scientists working tirelessly to retest the body parts recovered are currently testing "bone fragments the size of a Tic Tac" (per NPR).

Families continue to grieve for their newly identified loved ones

Although it's been two decades since 9/11, Newsweek writes that identifying victims remains a top priority for officials. Most recently, the remains of Scott Michael Johnson (via NPR) and Dorothy Morgan (per ABC7 New York) were identified in 2018 and 2021 respectively using DNA from their old toothbrushes. CNN reports that another victim was identified in 2019. However, the man's name was not publicly released per the family's wishes. In 2021, NBC New York explained that another man was identified along with Morgan. His name was also withheld from the public.

According to People, Johnson was working on the 89th floor of the South Tower as a security analyst at the time of his death. The then 26-year-old was from Montclair, New Jersey. Per, his mother, Ann Johnson, said 2001 was a fantastic year for her family until 9/11. She waited for her son to call to say he had made it but he never did. His remains were identified in the summer of 2018 but Ann said it did little to ease the pain of losing her son.

As for Dorothy Morgan, she was a 47-year-old mother that worked on the 94th floor of the North Tower (via People). Defying her daughter Nykiah's expectations, Morgan was identified in September 2021. Nykiah stated that her mother was remarkable and grieves that she never got to meet her second grandchild. The Guardian writes that investigators will continue to extend the limits of DNA to identify as many victims as they possibly can.