Morgue dismisses relief worker's claim about 'significant number' of unidentified bodies

CORRECTION:
The Jefferson County Morgue called the claim by an incident commander coordinating Harvey relief efforts on behalf of Victim Relief Ministries at the facility inaccurate Tuesday evening and said the woman who made the assertion was not one of the morgue's regular employees.

Victim Relief Ministries Incident Commander Veronica Sites contacted 12 News Tuesday and said there were a "significant number" of bodies that needed to be identified in southeast Texas after Harvey. She said "bodies" plural to 12 News' assignments editor, then told the news content manager that while she could not provide an exact number, there were a "significant number" of bodies. 12 News confirmed Sites' credentials with Victim Relief Ministries, then called the morgue -- which deferred questions back to her. At that point, after verifying she was working alongside Victim Relief Ministries and the morgue wanted her to be the point of contact, a story was published.

Ami C. Murphy, a forensic pathologist at the morgue, later contacted 12 News to say the information provided by Sites was incorrect. Below is a complete statement from Murphy.

“Forensic Medical has received calls from citizens and law enforcement officers looking for people who have been missing since the storm. We have collected information and are coordinating efforts with other agencies to assist in locating these missing people. However, our office only has one unidentified body at this time. Reports that a significant number of bodies need to be identified are not accurate.”

When 12 News reached back out to Victim Relief Ministries, another official clarified Sites' comments and said she was misquoted and meant a "significant event" not a "significant number" of bodies.

ORIGINAL STORY:

A "significant number" of bodies need to be identified in southeast Texas following Harvey, said Victim Relief Ministries Incident Commander Veronica Sites, who was working with the Jefferson County Morgue Tuesday.

Sites did not release an exact number -- only repeatedly describing the figure as "significant." She did, however, confirm one of the bodies was found in Orange County.

Victim Relief Ministries was overseeing the following counties, as of Tuesday afternoon: Sabine, Newton, Jasper, Orange, Jefferson, Angelina, Trinity, Polk, San Jacinto, Liberty, Chambers, Hardin and Tyler.

It was hard to say where the bodies came from because officials were dealing with flood waters, so it would be possible for victims to have died in one location and ended up somewhere else, Sites explained.

Officials at the medical examiner's office were trying to match unidentified victims with missing persons cases, according to Sites, who urged relatives of missing people to contact the morgue.

Families can reach the Jefferson County Morgue at 409-726-2571.

© 2017 KBMT-TV


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