William Griffin, Chief of Staff of the United States Army Reserve. (horizontal-x3)
William Griffin, Chief of Staff of the United States Army Reserve. (Teresa Canino )

Pathologist María Conte Miller welcomed the arrival of 13 soldiers specialized in forensic sciences to the Bureau of Forensic Sciences (NCF, Spanish acronym) to assist in the reception and delivery of corpses.

Yesterday, the also former director of Forensic Sciences explained to El Nuevo Día that these soldiers will carry out administrative duties in the pathology division. She said that, while she ran the agency, which used to be called the Institute of Forensic Sciences, many soldiers received training in the facility, but none assisted in tasks like this new mission.

Yesterday, it was not possible to obtain the current number of personnel at the NCF pathology division, where a crisis due to bodies piling up accum forced the entity to use five refrigerated wagons to store corpses outside its central building.

"They are going to speed up the process a bit," said Conte Miller, noting that typically a NCF pathologist (currently five with a position and five with contracts) is assisted by one of these employees. "A pathologist can work more cases with two or three (of these officials)," she said.

Conte Miller directed Forensic Sciences during the administration of former Governor Luis Fortuño. She said that these soldiers can assist in placing materials on autopsy tables, receive corpses brought to the NCF and move the bodies with more agility from the morgue or storage wagons to the pathology room.

Yesterday morning, Colonel David Griffin, Chief of Staff of the United States Army Reserve, made it clear that the role of the 13 soldier who will collaborate with the NCF, is part of an inter-agency effort and they will not solve the corpses crisis in the institute just by themselves.

"The mission is the backlog, handling the corpses in the NCF," said Griffin, in an aside with the press at the Buchanan military base.

In fact, the US Department of Health launched a call through all of the United States to request the assistance of pathologists, radiologists and forensic dentists.

"At the moment, they are in the evaluation or screening process to assign those who comply with the NCF requirements," said Karixia Ortiz, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, in written statements. Ortiz could not say when the whole process will be ready.

"We expect this stage will soon be completed, and that we can count on the forensic experts team in the coming weeks," Mónica Menéndez, NCF deputy commissioner, added in written statements.

The soldiers, who would also support the new staff of pathologists, will be at the NCF for up to 90 days, all of them are Puerto Ricans and part of the 246th Quartermaster Company, based in the Maní neighborhood, in Mayagüez.

The same Company, with a largernumber of soldiers, was at the NCF for three months, between October and December after Hurricane Maria.

Griffin explained that soldiers will move and “prepare” the corpses. They will not be able to take blood or other fluids samples, nor will they be able to perform tasks that imply that they would have to appear in court in judicial processes.

$170,000 from the funds that FEMA allocated to the Reserve will finance the mission.

Griffin explained that the soldiers are in the process of completing documents and getting vaccinated to start working, which could happen before the end of the week.

Griffin said that this mission, with a soldier who works as an assistant pathologist at the Veterans Hospital, included the mobilization of four portable morgues with the capacity to store 64 bodies. However, Ortiz said that the use of this equipment is not contemplated, so it is still unknown how long the NCF will use wagons to store corpses.

The use of wagons to store about 324 bodies in the NCF and bad odors from at least one of these containers led to an investigation by the House Health and Public Safety Committee.

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