Naming the Dead at Ground Zero

Remains are unearthed after 9/11. A corpse is found under John Wayne Gacy’s house. Rhonda Roby goes to work. Those bones, to her, are families, waiting.
  1. Few people know that while New York was burning on September 13, 2001, one of the few private planes flying the empty skies that day carried a band of the nation’s top scientists and businesspeople. Dr. Rhonda Roby was among them, shooting through the clouds toward the grimmest mission of her life.


    She didn’t balk. She didn’t even pack. She was asked to drop everything and go identify the missing, and it never occurred to her to say no. It is, she says, what she was put on earth to do. When Roby and her colleagues landed that day in White Plains, New York, they were quickly escorted to the office of the chief medical examiner in New York City.

    A police car drove them the rest of the way to hell.

    Roby remembers death, everywhere. A cloudy haze of incinerated debris. Burning fires. Smells that, even as a forensic expert, she will never forget. Papers drifting listlessly downward. She doesn’t know why, but she grabbed two of those papers falling from the sky, an email and spr...

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Originally published in D Magazine, November 2012

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