The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is primarily responsible for identifying DNA from crime scenes and investigating sudden or suspicious death. It also conducts autopsies on victims of apparent drug overdoses to rule foul play.
But Dr. Barbara Sampson resigned as chief physician examiner on Nov. 30 after two mass casualty situations disrupted the regular rhythms of her office, ending her 23-year-long career.
Three years after she was hired as a fellow in forensic pathology — working under Dr. Charles Hirsch, the chief medical examiner from 1989 to 2013 — New York was devastated by the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The city began the nation’s largest homicide investigation in its history and made a commitment to identify all 2,996 people who died at the World Trade Center.
Twenty years later, only 60 percent of the bodies have been found. The medical examiner’s office is using DNA technology to try to identify remains from ground zero — a time-consuming process that cemented long relationships with some of the families.
“I remember telling one couple that we had identified their son, and they just broke down in tears,” she said in an interview. “They were from Europe and they were already in their 70s, and they thought that they would never have that closure.”
She succeeded Hirsch when he retired, becoming the city’s first woman in the role. Six years later, the coronavirus was discovered. Covid-19 has claimed the lives of 35,000 city residents since March 2020. This includes more than 20,000 deaths within the first few weeks of the pandemic. Her office called it the most severe mass casualty in New York City history.
Sampson described the experience as being hit by a wave and not knowing when it would peak.
“We saw what was happening in Europe, and in Asia as well,” she recalled of the early months of 2020, “but most vivid in my mind are the pictures from Italy, where they were just overwhelmed so quickly. There were literally bodies on the streets. And our reaction, for my team here, was: ‘That cannot happen in New York.’ We have to use our expertise here to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
Source: NY Times