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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bombings Hit Nerve In Morgue




Oleg Kriger knows nothing about the 60-year-old man whose charred body has been lying in Moscow's morgue No. 2 since the Sept. 13 explosion on Kashirskoye Shosse.


And Kriger, the morgue's head for the past 13 years, prefers to keep it that way. Already, the bomb that killed more than 100 people has struck a nerve with this man who deals with the grim results of murders and accidents every day.


"We are forced to keep ourselves out of this, or else we cannot work," Kriger said in an interview this week. "But there are cases when we can't even hold back. ... There was this one little child - 1 1/2 months, still in its diapers. That stuck with me because I have a grandchild. I immediately started to think about it unprofessionally."


Morgue No. 2 received 51 of the 118 corpses recovered from the explosion. There also are separate body parts that belong to an undetermined number of people.


Relatives claimed all of the corpses except for the one unknown man. There is no way to know anything about him besides his age, height, blood group and general appearance. There is no way even to tell whether he lived in the house or was just visiting.


In total, the remains of 117 of the Kashirskoye Shosse bombing victims have been identified, including 114 of the corpses and three whose bodies were blown into several pieces, said Vladimir Zharov, the city's chief forensics expert. Four corpses and 10 sets of fragments remain.


This brings the death toll from the explosion to at least 121 and possibly as high as 131. The unidentified fragments are thought to belong to 10 people, Zharov said.


In the Ulitsa Guryanova explosion, which left 93 dead the week before, Zharov said 81 out of 88 corpses have been identified, and there are five sets of fragments, none of which had been identified.


He said those who remained unidentified were probably people that nobody had come looking for.


But those who believed they lost a loved one in the bombings were eager to help identify the remains, Zharov said. In such tragedies, survivors feel a great need to find a person's remains, hold a proper funeral and give the experience some closure.


"Relatives come to us and say, at least find us a finger, something we can bury," he said.


Russian authorities have been criticized for not properly funding identification efforts in the case of soldiers killed in the Chechnya war. Some 300 bodies and body parts are still unidentified from the 1994-1996 conflict and remain in a morgue in Rostov-on-Don.


But Zharov said his staff was using all available methods to identify the victims of the Moscow bombings, including expensive DNA matching to put fragments together.


After the bombings, finding a body to bury took many relatives on an odyssey of several days through the bureaucracy of three morgues.


"If I was a big boss, I would have organized it completely differently," Kriger said. "We should have right away on the scene identified and marked all of them and then brought them to the morgues."


Instead, the bodies were sent immediately to the morgues, where a full autopsy was performed on each of them.


The autopsy process takes 3 1/2 to five hours and produces 10 to 15 pages of typed text, Kriger said.


"These corpses in the forensic aspect don't present any challenges for us . ... The cause of death is clear," Kriger said, adding that adequate information could have been acquired by performing autopsies on only a sample of the bodies.


Kriger said relatives first viewed videos of the corpses on a computer before looking at the body they thought was theirs.


"They [the corpses] are deformed. You can't even say goodbye properly. But, you know, people were in a state of shock, a kind of numbness," Kriger said. "They were just glad that they found something, if you can say that. The grief will come later."


Relatives informed the morgue staff of distinctive features of the person they were looking for and often provided photographs to assist the identification process.


"One woman from Tula brought us information about a child. He had a back injury. We did an X-ray and found it. She said he had a broken jaw. We took the jaw and found the old break," Kriger said.


But there were cases when families rushed to take a body before they were entirely sure. Kriger said one family was ready to take the wrong child's body home because the two children had similar pajamas on.


Kriger said the process could have gone more smoothly if there were better dental records, which are used extensively in the West to identify people in such cases.


In Russia, routine dental examinations are not performed as widely as in the West. And in the absence of a state system, it is very hard to find such records even when they exist.


"Today I went to one [dental] clinic, and tomorrow I could go to another," Kriger said.


Fingerprint records would also help in such cases, he said. A recent law requires mandatory fingerprinting of convicts and allows for voluntary fingerprinting of citizens, but few have taken advantage of it, fearing an infringement on their privacy.