Police detective helps ID bodies in NYC

Tuesday, October 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

While much of the focus has been on the bombing, one can't forget the heart-breaking work still going on in New York City. Each day, workers find body parts and try to identify them for the thousands of families still waiting for word of their loved ones.

News on Six crime reporter Lori Fullbright talked to a Tulsa Police detective who spent two weeks in New York City, doing just that job. Roy Heim says ground zero looks like a movie set; yet feels and smells like a real-life battleground. He says he didn't focus on the gruesome, but on the reward of helping hurting families. Roy and Sherri Heim belong to a six-member de-morgue team that works mass casualty scenes, they took some of these pictures on their last night in New York City.

Even though Roy has recovered and identified body parts at the Oklahoma City bombing, the Korean Airline crash in Guam, the Del Rio, Texas floods, the Oklahoma City tornadoes, he says nothing could've prepared him for this. "There's not a comparison. Nothing that we've ever seen. I don't know anyone outside of war who has seen anything like this." The Heims worked 7 at night to 7 in the morning for 15 days straight. They say the rubble piles were as big or bigger than some Tulsa buildings. "Huge cranes working, trying to remove twisted pieces of metal. One was six feet tall and so thick, it took them a half a day to cut it in two." Roy says as workers uncover more debris, more bodies and parts become visible. His team works to identify those parts and get them back to their families. "It's overwhelming when you look at it as a group. But, if you take it as individuals, you find a hand or an arm, you might be able to identify it with fingerprints or jewelry or scars or tattoos and at that point, it becomes much more than a hand or an arm."

Roy's team did make several identifications while in New York, he says the best way for him to deal with the emotional trauma of this unusual job is to focus on the positive side, that he's helping people in pain. "It's so rewarding to see families, in a terrible situation like this, get some peace." Roy's team could be called back to New York City for another two-week shift. He expects it will go faster once more debris is removed. He heard one story of a group of people trapped in an elevator and police trying to pry open the doors. They got them open enough for one woman to escape, she made it out right before the building collapsed, so the searchers expect once they find that elevator, they'll find a number of people. That's just one of many such stories.

If there is a positive side to all this, crime has dropped dramatically in New York over the past month.