40 Names Removed From WTC Death Toll
Oct. 30, 2003
NEW YORK (AP) _ The World Trade Center death toll dropped to 2,752 on Wednesday after 40 names were removed from the list because investigators could not prove those people died or, in some cases, whether they ever existed.
For two years, the number of people killed has not been precisely known. The toll had stood at 2,792 since December of last year.
``This is close to what we believe were there,'' said Police Inspector Jeremiah Quinlan. ``We put a lot of work into it, when you look at how many were originally reported to what it is now.''
Hours after the 2001 attack, a stunned Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the number of casualties would be ``more than any of us can bear.'' The list peaked at 6,886 two weeks after the attack, inflated by thousands of missing-person reports from relatives and friends around the world who had not heard from loved ones.
Since then, a team of investigators has weeded out errors, duplicated names and cases of outright fraud.
An Associated Press tally of people confirmed dead and those reported dead or missing in the trade center attack stood at 2,774 on Wednesday. The AP list is based on information collected from the Pentagon, medical examiners, the courts, AP foreign bureaus, companies, families, member newspapers, funeral homes and places of worship.
Charles Strozier, a psychoanalyst and history professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said a solid number is important for the history books, for memorials and for a sense of finality.
``Numbers are not an insignificant part of the way we memorialize disasters,'' Strozier said. ``You have to know who you're remembering.''
The 40 names dropped from the list were recited at both the first- and second-anniversary observances at ground zero.
Among the names removed this week include the only children ever said to have died in the buildings. A baby and his 4-year-old brother were reported missing along with their father by a California woman who said she was the youngsters' grandmother. Now, it is not clear whether they ever existed.
Investigators had scant information about the Vanvelzer family but listed them for two years on the official tally, based on the woman's report and the DNA sample she submitted to assist in identifying remains. Trees were even planted in their memory at a California park.
Officials would not comment on their case, saying only that the names were removed.
Remains from only about 1,520 victims have been identified by way of DNA or other forensic evidence.
Thousands of the missing reports came with only sketchy details, partial phone numbers and misspelled names. Some people, reported missing in the initial hours, later turned up safe. And some reports were fraudulent, from people trying to collect charity and other benefits.
New York police alone have made about 40 arrests related to people falsely claiming they lost loved ones, and law enforcement agencies in other cities have caught others. Quinlan said police are still investigating some of the removed cases for possible fraud.
Others are simply unexplained disappearances, like Steve Carey, whose mother said he told her in early September 2001 that he was moving to New York to look for a job. She never spoke to him again.
``I'm supposed to guarantee that he was in New York, but I don't know how to do that,'' said Jeanne Carey. ``I talked to him a week before he went and that's it.''
Many of the cases involved erroneous reports from families overseas who made frantic calls after the attack and could not be reached for a follow-up. Others could be illegal immigrants whose jobs were not well documented.
Fernando Jiminez Molinar is among those who will no longer be listed. His mother said she has not heard from him since three days before the attack, when he told her he had just been hired at a pizzeria near the trade center.
A judge last March denied her request for a death certificate, saying Molinar's whereabouts on Sept. 11 could not be clearly established.
Weeks after the attack, the Giuliani administration streamlined the death certificate process _ which ordinarily takes up to three years without a body _ to allow victims' families quick access to death benefits and bank accounts.
That program ended this spring. Of the 2,752 victims, the deaths of about 1,220 have been confirmed only by court-issued death certificates, not by any remains.