Mystery emerges in effort to ID landslide remains

Mystery emerges in effort to ID landslide remains

Credit: Maj. Tawny Dotson, Washington National Guard

Members of the Washington National Guard continue a grid-based surface search from the west side of the Oso landslide. More than 70 members of the National Guard are involved in search and recovery efforts.

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by Associated Press

NWCN.com

Posted on April 3, 2014 at 1:51 PM

EVERETT, Wash.  -- As medical examiners painstakingly piece together the identities and lives of the people killed when a mudslide wiped out a small Washington community, a mystery troubles them.

One of the 30 bodies found does not fit with descriptions on the missing persons list, which, as of Thursday included 15 people, according to the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.

The only clue to the man's identity is his gold molars, said Heather Oie, operations manager at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office. He might have been someone who was on the highway or going for a hike.

The mystery underscores the tedious process of identifying remains more than a week after the March 22 landslide that broke off a steep hill, roared across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River and buried a community at Oso, about 55 miles north of Seattle.

In some cases, searchers have found only partial remains. The goal of the team -- made up of medical examiners, detectives, dentists and others --  is to make sure there's no doubt as to the victims' identities, said Snohomish County Medical Examiner Norman Thiersch.

"This is not television," he said. "These are methodical, painstaking processes we go through.”

The medical examiner's office released two more victim names Thursday. Gloria Halstead, 67, and Jovon E. Mangual, 13, both of Arlington, died of multiple blunt force injuries. Both had been listed as missing.

The list of the deceased names 27 people, with investigators trying to identify three more.

"We have strong leads on two," Oie said. "The man with the gold molars is still in doubt.”

Without possible family members to compare, DNA tests are useless.

 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."
 

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