The ultimate victims: The ones that lost their loved ones
The other side – the families that lost their loved ones that day -- has a whole another tale to share. They were the ultimate victims of the event because they are the only ones that survived the horrors of that day and are forced to relive it every year on September 11.
Killed at the World Trade Center, 32-year-old firefighter Scott Kopytko's remains were never recovered -- a painful legacy of grief for families looking for answers, closure or final confirmation that their loved one was actually a 9/11 victim.
"Very painful and very hurt" is how Russell Mercer, Kopytko's stepfather, describes it. "And mistrusting of everybody."
Numbers tell the story in the decade of search and recovery of the remains of September 11 victims -- a massive forensic investigation marked by a Supreme Court appeal of families who wanted a more thorough search, and discoveries years after the attacks of even more remains in manholes and on rooftops around ground zero.
— Tens of millions have been spent, including on the painstaking extraction of DNA from tiny bone fragments, using technology refined from a decade ago.
— Of 21,000 remains that have been recovered, nearly 9,000 are unidentified, because of the degraded condition they were found in. More than 1,100 victims have no identifiable remains.
- And the pace of the process is telling - in five years, only 26 new identifications. Ernest James, a 40-year-old man who worked in the trade center's north tower, was the last identification, in late August.
The forensic teams involved in this lengthy process speak with hope of discovering more bodies and their identities but feel the strain of the sheer difficulty of the task set out for them.
But the extended search continues to baffle grieving family members like Mercer.
"You can find DNA from the Civil War, World War I and World War II," he said. "But you can't find DNA from first responders or civilians?"
Few full bodies have been recovered from the site. But then everything from heat, moisture, bacteria and chemicals like jet fuel combined thwarted the detective work of forensic scientists. Some remains were so badly burned or contaminated that DNA could not be analyzed.
With a near impossible task of determining the dead, the families are forced to go to the only place they know with certainty that their loved ones’ remains were last found – Ground Zero.
Image: A man reads the names of victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, written on US flags as part of the "flags of honor" project, in New York on Wednesday, September 7, 2011. (Photo credit: AP)