Efforts to identify using dental work, fingerprints or tattoos, can take time and if that doesn't work, officials turn to DNA testing. But that works best in cases in which a close family member can give a sample for comparison. They've only needed to use DNA testing to identify one of the slide victims. At the same time, detectives are working to help determine identities by using information from families, social media accounts and belongings from the site.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE WORKING THERE? WHAT DO THEY DO?
The regular staff of about 12 at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's office has been supported with dozens of professionals from King, Pierce, Skagit and Kitsap counties and members of the Air National Guard. Medical examiners are working with pathologists, dentists and medical investigators to clean bodies, take fingerprints, and note tattoos or other distinguishing features. Detectives and other professionals do online research and call families to determine the identities of the victims.
HOW DO WORKERS COPE IN THESE SITUATIONS?
People working at the medical examiner's office are doing everything from calling family members to cleaning bodies and the stress takes a toll. On Wednesday, a therapy dog named Paddington comforted members of the Air National Guard and medical investigators.
A team of county mental health workers was expected to visit the office later this week to meet with workers one-on-one.
Medical examiner's office deputy director Dennis Peterson said staff has been so dedicated to the work that he's had to "kick them out" to force them to rest.
HOW LONG BEFORE ALL REMAINS ARE IDENTIFIED?
Officials said Wednesday they expect all remains currently at the medical examiner's office to be identified by later this week, except for the one man. Investigators are still working to determine his identity.
"We make no assumptions," Snohomish County Sheriff's office Sgt. Shawn Stich said, noting they will not give up the investigation.
"It's such a big impact on our community and that's why we are here."