Flight 93 forensics workers return to pay tribute to passengers and crew

·2 min read

Sep. 11—SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — Patricia Kauffman and John McGuire came to the United Airlines Flight 93 crash site in 2001 to help identify those who died when the hijacked airliner came down in a Somerset County field.

As representatives of the National Disaster Medical System with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, they returned on Sunday to participate in a ceremony to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

As the names of the 40 heroes who fought back on Flight 93 were read, Dr. Kauffman and McGuire rang the twin Bells of Remembrance — Kauffman tolling the larger, deeper bell, and then McGuire adding the higher tone moments later.

"We were here in 2001, and it's always a moving experience to come back," Kauffman, a Philadelphia-area pathologist, said after the ceremony. "Whenever we respond to a disaster, we carry a little piece of it with us for the rest of our lives."

Kauffman and McGuire, of Washington, D.C., serve with the federal Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team — called in to identify victims of mass disasters.

"It is always so very moving," Kauffman said. "Part of our job ... was that identification of the passengers and crew. It's a source of deep gratitude and pride to us that we were able to identify all of them and return them to their families."

The 40 names were read Sunday by a National Park Service worker, or by members of the families of the 40.

McGuire, a funeral director, said hearing the names and then ringing the bells was a moving experience — even so many years after he worked at the crash scene.

"I've found over the years that I have to remove myself from the actual circumstances," he said. "This occurrence was just horrific. I did have feelings for that. Instead of being an individual death, it was the death of many.

"We were very fortunate that we were able to respond to help identify the decedents so that the families could see their loved ones back — so without that forensic function, you possibly could not have closure."

Kauffman said she feared the emotions might be too much to overcome — but the bell-ringing duties were handled flawlessly.

"I told my son this morning that I wasn't sure I was going to be able to make it through the ceremony and the presentation of the names, because we played such an intimate and privileged role when we were here in 2001, to be able to be part of that identification," she said. "We feel that even though we never were able to know them in real life, that we met them upon their passing.

"And so as each name is read, I feel a deep, deep connection with everyone who was on that flight."