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Hawaii officials appeal for assistance in identifying wildfire victims’ remains

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Hawaii officials have launched a plea for collaboration from residents to aid in the identification of human remains discovered amidst the wreckage of a rapid-spreading wildfire on Maui Island. The deadly inferno claimed the lives of no less than 115 individuals earlier this month.

In response to the catastrophe, authorities are calling upon citizens to submit DNA samples, a critical step in the daunting task of determining the identities of the victims. With a reported 1,100 individuals still unaccounted for, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is reaching out to families to contribute to the identification process, as detailed by the AFP.

Special Agent Steven Merrill, addressing the media on Tuesday, cautioned that the count of missing persons is anticipated to escalate. Merrill stated, “We’re meticulously cross-referencing all available lists to ascertain those who remain untraceable.”

While investigators acknowledge the grim possibility that not all fire-ravaged victims may be recovered, the situation remains challenging. The town of Lahaina, once home to 12,000 inhabitants, has been virtually obliterated. Numerous organizations, including law enforcement, the Red Cross, and shelters, initially recorded thousands of missing individuals.

Maui County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Martin, overseeing the family assistance center, noted a discrepancy in the willingness of family members to provide DNA samples compared to past disaster events. Martin has liaised with specialists experienced in mass-casualty DNA sampling, observing a lower level of participation in Hawaii.

Martin expressed his bewilderment at this trend, stating, “We’re encountering fewer family members providing DNA samples compared to similar scenarios elsewhere.” Of the meager 104 samples collected thus far, he struggled to comprehend the reluctance. Martin assured contributors that the DNA would solely be used for identification purposes and would not find its way into any law enforcement databases, in the hopes of encouraging more families to step forward.

The roll-call of approximately 1,100 missing persons presents a complex puzzle, replete with incomplete data and ambiguities such as single names, indistinct genders, and even potential duplicates. As the list derives from diverse sources, investigators remain uncertain about its eventual completion or the final tally of casualties from the blaze.

Chief of Maui police, John Pelletier, emphasized the need for cooperation, urging citizens with unaccounted-for relatives to provide DNA samples and file comprehensive police reports. Pelletier stressed, “Don’t hesitate if you suspect a family member is missing. Contribute your DNA and file a report. Let’s unravel this mystery. An uncontactable name doesn’t aid anyone.”

Although authorities aim to refine the data and publish a verified roster of missing individuals in the coming days, the scale of destruction is staggering. Pelletier cautioned that even after exhaustive searches for remains, the possibility of missing victims remains, stating, “Even after our search concludes, I can’t guarantee that we’ve accounted for everyone.”

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