Scientists at DAFB Help ID Unidentified Remains - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Scientists at DAFB Help ID Unidentified Remains

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Kerriann Meyers works on a sample at AFMES. (Photo: WBOC) Kerriann Meyers works on a sample at AFMES. (Photo: WBOC)

DOVER, Del. (WBOC) - Dover Air Force Base is home to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. One of its functions is to help identify unidentified remains of servicemen and women.

The staff there reports out hundreds of analyses a year. Last year it was 1,700. Many of those analyses will not lead to an ID, but some will.

Kerriann Meyers is basically a detective. She's a DNA analyst with AFMES.

Meyers is part of a careful, methodical process to ID remains. And she starts with a sample and a small amount of information from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

"A case number, a sample number and the conflict that it originated from," she said. "At the time I'm processing, I don't have numbers. I don't know who they're looking for. It's very much in the blind."

The sample is first cleaned - sanded, washed, decontaminated. Then DNA is extracted and copied over and over and over again. Next that DNA is sequenced to determine its unique code. Finally the sequence is compared to sequences in a DOD database. And hopefully a match is found.

"When you're assigned to make a comparison, and you discover that, yes, these sequences are consistent with one another, it's exciting," said Meyers. "It's the time in your job where a case number becomes a name."

It becomes a name like Capt. Rick Chorlins, a US Air Force pilot in the Vietnam War.

He was killed when his plane was shot down. His body couldn't be recovered.

But four decades later, a small bone fragment from unidentified remains found in Vietnam ended up in front of Meyers.

"It was roughly the size of your pinky finger," she said.

And it weighed less than a paper clip does. But it was enough for Meyers to help make a match. It was enough for Toby Keane, in St. Louis, to get a phone call.

"He said, 'This is Mortuary Affairs with the Air Force. And we have a DNA match to a piece of bone to your mother's DNA. We have a piece of bone from your brother,' said Keane. "We just never thought at this stage in the game that there would be anything. it wasn't much, but it was part of his physical being."

"It's why I'm here. It's why I come to work every day. I work for the families," said Meyers.

She, and her colleagues, give Capt. Chorlins' family, and so many other families, something physical to connect to, to bury and to help them find closure.

AFMES has more than 70 scientists and does work for all the branches of the military.

KMOV Reporter Mike Colombo contributed to this report.

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