Jul 29, 2005
9:06 AM EST
Pa. (AP) - The Somerset
coroner will turn over control of the United Flight 93
site to its owners Monday.
Miller has held the site as a
death scene since Sept. 11, 2001,
when the hijacked plane
crashed into an abandoned strip mine
in Somerset County, killing 40
a group of more than two dozen
volunteers this week made a final sweep of the property, looking
for debris. The group
found airplane debris near
section of downed evergreens and
a small amount of human
remains, Miller said.
The remains can't be
identified because of weather
degradation and the size of the sample,
"The volume (of materials found) has dropped off considerably, to
the point that I now feel it's appropriate to close my involvement
in the case," Miller said.
Seven groups own land
on or near the crash site,
which is just outside Shanksville and about 65 miles southeast of
Pittsburgh. The National Park Service is set to take control of the
tracts for a permanent memorial.
In the simplest of terms, it
said that Somerset County Coroner
was going to release custody of the crash
site where her mother,
Marcin, of Budd Lake, N.J.,
39 other passengers
on United Flight 93
died on Sept. 11, 2001.
The 70-acre expanse will be
returned to the six
original land owners and
eventually purchased by the
National Park Service.
During the last four years, Miller became something of a celebrity
in Somerset County.
Coroner's quiet unflappability helps him
take charge of Somerset tragedy
Monday, October 15, 2001
Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller and his wife,
filling in as an unpaid
deputy, work in an office
crowded with files
and paperwork related to the September 11 crash of United Flight 93.
In the hour before the Sept.
11 Somerset crash, the coroner's
neighboring Cambria County
had phoned, alerting Miller to the
terrorism in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Now, a month of 18-hour days
later, the crash site has been
about as cleared of fragmentary remains
as Miller figures humankind
can get it. The high science of
DNA is pairing remains with the dead.
certificates have been mailed out for all
but the four hijackers.
Miller continues to escort
victims' relatives who trickle into
Somerset County to gaze on the crash scene.
"He's tired, very tired," said
usually an environmental
health and safety
consultant with PPG
in Allison Park, but filling
in as an unpaid
deputy and spirit booster
to the coroner.
His father, funeral director
Wilbur Miller, an occasionally
gruff, usually affable soul,
was elected coroner for six
terms, 24 years. Wallace
Miller was his deputy for the
1994, he bought the Somerset funeral home from his
and added another nine miles
away in Rockwood. In 1997, he was
elected successor when his father, now 74, retired as
makes $35,854 a year as
the crash he swore in a cadre
of deputies --
helpers such as hospital
workers and fellow funeral directors
-- but Miller chose
largely to go it alone.
was as if the plane had stopped and let the
passengers off before it crashed," Miller said.
left: Sister Mary Ann Dillon,
President of Mount
Aloysius College, poses for a photo with Wallace
she presents him with an honorary degree in Social Justice from the
College. Wallace Miller
is the Somerset County Coronor who
humbly served our country at the crash site of Flight 93
Hundreds of searchers who
climbed the hemlocks and combed the
woods for weeks
were able to find about 1,500
mostly scorched samples
of human tissue totaling
less than 600 pounds, or about 8
percent of the total.
Miller was among the very
first to arrive after 10:06 on the
magnificently sunny morning of September 11.
was stunned at how small the smoking crater
looked, he says,
someone took a scrap truck, dug a 10-foot ditch
and dumped all this trash into it."
Once he was able to
absorb the scene, Miller says,
"I stopped being coroner
after about 20 minutes,
because there were no
Immediately after the crash,
the seeming absence of human
remains led the mind of coroner Wally Miller to a surreal
Flight 93 had somehow stopped in mid-flight and
discharged all of its passengers before crashing.
"There was just nothing
visible," he says. "It was the
would be nearly an hour before Miller
came upon his first trace of a body part.
14 victims of Flight 93
At the same time, the high winds that buffeted the area over the
last few days have
dislodged additional airplane
parts -- seat cushions,
wiring, carpet fragments and pieces of metal -- from trees near the
"It's all aircraft parts,
no human remains," Miller
said. "We've collected them
10 recycling bin-sized containers and eventually we'll turn
them all over to United."
confirmation of victims' identities by
the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology DNA lab
in Rockville, Md., means that 34
of the 44 people who
aboard the jetliner crashed
Sept. 11. have been
Flight 93 bound for San Francisco from Newark, N.J., had two
five flight attendants and 37
aboard when it crashed in Stonycreek.
the lab is continuing to test DNA
material to verify the deaths of the last six crash victims.
He said DNA tests won't
be able to identify the four
hijackers on board.
"To make a DNA
need something from the victims or their family members
-- personal effects, or blood samples -- to match," Miller said.
"We don't have that kind
of information about the
Identification of the
victims through DNA
testing allows the coroner to issue death certificates
and return the fragmented remains to the families.
Miller said he will identify as many of the remains as he can.
Remains that can't be identified will be interred at a grave
in Somerset County.
"We already have issued presumptive death certificates so families
could begin to take care
of the affairs of those persons we haven't identified,"
"Now we can say for sure on 34 of the victims
and that gives the families, some of whom have held memorial
services, more of a sense of closure."
When they arrived at the National Press Club, the event started
with a blessing from the Rev.
Lutheran pastor in Somerset County who also runs a family
lumberyard. The choice of Hoover had great local significance.
He and his wife, Linda,
own eight wooded acres
with a secluded cabin that was their weekend retreat and their
planned retirement home, along with a sturdy old stone cottage
occupied by their 34-year-old
But the shock wave from
Flight 93, a few hundred yards away, spewed debris through the
woods with such force that it blew out all the windows and doors
and shook the foundation on Barry's
place. It turned the
whole Hoover property into a cemetery where human remains were
still being found months later.