Families of Sept. 11 victims on Sunday called for congressional hearings to establish federal protocols on how to handle human remains after disasters like the terror acts that took thousands of lives in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
At a news conference near the Sept. 11 memorial, family members spoke days after Pentagon officials revealed that partial remains of several victims were incinerated by a military contractor and sent to a landfill.
The families said they oppose a plan to place unidentified human remains of the New York victims in an underground repository at bedrock they say "desecrates" the memory of their loved ones.
"Are our loved ones' remains marketable?" asked Rosaleen Tallon, sister of firefighter Sean Tallon, who died in the 2001 attack. "They're using them to market trinkets."
She held up a gift keychain inscribed with "No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory" — the same words that will grace a memorial wall 70 feet underground, when the 9/11 museum opens. The unidentified remains are to be placed behind it, sharing space with the museum but administered separately.
Norman Siegel, the attorney for 9/11 Parents & Families of Firefighters & WTC Victims — a group that has sued New York City over the plans — said they had sent out queries to families asking their opinion. He said they received 350 responses, of which 95 percent expressed opposition to the repository.
"The 9/11 museum is not a graveyard," Siegel said.
Seventeen family members have sued the city, demanding that officials ask relatives of victims what they would like done with the unidentified remains. The group lost, but is appealing.
Instead, group members would like to see the remains encased in a kind of "tomb of the unknown soldier" — above ground as part of the memorial.
The remains of more than 1,100 of the 2,753 victims killed at the World Trade Center have not been identified. The remains are under the jurisdiction of the city's chief medical examiner's office, and even in a repository, they would be available for analysis in the future using any scientific advances.
The wall would separate the museum from the repository and the general public.
An adjacent room will be reserved for family members for visits by special private appointment, apart from the public.
Joe Daniels, president of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, said that putting the remains at bedrock fulfills a promise made to families.
"Since the very beginning, victims' family members have strongly advocated for the unidentified remains to be returned to the World Trade Center site," he said in a statement. "This is the plan that has been honored and is being implemented."
The Sept. 11 memorial was dedicated on the 10th anniversary of the attacks last September.
Work on the planned museum has ground to a halt because of a financial dispute, and there is now no possibility it will open on time next year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said recently.
On Sunday, the group announced it would ask Congress to hold hearings to establish protocols on handling remains of victims of large-scale disaster.
Siegel said the decision was made in the past few days, and that he and group members would contact New York legislators on Monday to suggest hearings on how the unidentified remains of Sept. 11 victims have been and are being handled.
On Tuesday, an independent panel that studied management issues at Dover Air Force Base's mortuary mentioned the landfill disposal in a report it released last week.
"We believe that human remains do not belong in a landfill or a museum," said Sally Regenhard, of Yonkers, whose firefighter son died at the World Trade Center. His remains were never found.