Identifying the dead proves challenging, too

EVERETT — Five people have been identified by officials as victims of Saturday’s mammoth mudslide at Oso. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office began releasing names late Thursday.

The confirmed dead are Christina A. Jefferds, 45, of Oso; Stephen A. Neal, 55, of Darrington; Linda L. McPherson, 69, of Oso; Kaylee B. Spillers, 5, of Oso; and William E. Welsh, 66, of Arlington.

Through verification by family members, news outlets have identified several others, as well.

With 25 known dead and 90 people missing, the list was expected to grow today.

Tasked with identifying likely dozens of victims, the medical examiner’s office is getting help from the Washington National Guard and medical-examiner personnel from King and Skagit counties.

“We have additional resources that we haven’t yet activated but are on standby when we need them,” Heather Oie, operations manager for the medical examiner, said Thursday.

So far, 14 bodies have been recovered and brought to the M.E. and are in the process of being identified.

Recovery teams are transporting bodies to a center the medical examiner’s office has set up near the landslide site.

The bodies then are transported to the medical examiner’s office in Everett.

Once notification has been made to next of kin of those who died, identity information is turned over to the county Department of Emergency Management and released to the media, she said.

The medical examiner’s 13-member team is working non-stop until further notice, she said.

In addition to the staff, as many as 25 to 30 other people from other agencies are helping in the identification work, she said.

For example, a pathologist and two other staffers have been sent from Public Health Seattle and King County.

“We have to make sure we have a scientific identification” through finger prints, dental records or X-rays, Oie said. “People can help us if they have family members who are involved and they know who the dentist is.”

Identification can be slowed for days as officials try to find where the deceased person’s dental records are, she said.

“Comparing X-rays or dental records is way faster than DNA,” she said.

Family members are notified in person by a chaplain, and family assistance centers are available to help those who have lost both housing and loved ones, she said.

“The problem we’re having in the community is some people are under the impression that they have to view the person, and that’s considered the identification,” Oie said.

“We do not use viewing for an identification.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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