Thousands of pieces of unidentified human remains from 9/11 victims were moved Saturday from the medical examiner's office to a repository at ground zero, where they will be stored in the same building as the museum opening this month.
The 7,930 pieces of remains, in vacuum-sealed plastic pouches, were packed in three military transfer cases, draped with American flags and driven in a solemn procession of NYPD, FDNY and Port Authority vehicles, from the forensics laboratory on Manhattan's East Side where they have been housed since the attacks.
The cases were unloaded and walked into the site just after 7 a.m.
The remains won't be under the museum's jurisdiction and will still be considered under the care of the medical examiner. The museum opens to the families on Thursday and to the public on May 21.
The remains will be accessible only to families of the dead and to the forensic scientists who are still trying to match the bone slivers to DNA from the more than 1,000 victims who have had any piece of remains identified.
"Our commitment to return the remains to the families is as great today as it was in 2001," Mark Desire, who oversees the four-member World Trade Center team at the medical examiner's office, said earlier in the week.
Desire said that as new technology becomes available, the efforts to identify the fragments will continue indefinitely.
In some cases, scientists have gone back to the same bone fragment 10 or 15 times, using new technology to attempt to extract DNA diminished by fire, sunlight, bacteria and the jet fuel that poured through the towers.
The painstaking process involves pulverizing the bone fragments, adding a special chemical to the powder and then spinning it all in a centrifuge to break open the bone cells so DNA can be extracted. Then comes the last, critical step — looking to match it to an item with the victim's DNA provided by families — part of the medical examiner's collection of 17,000 contributions.
Four new identifications were made this past year.
Family members have long endorsed the ongoing identification process, even as some protested this weekend's move of the remains to the museum site, which they fear could be prone to flooding.
On Saturday, a small group of families put black cloths over their mouths at the site before the remains arrived.
"Don't put them in the basement," Rosemary Cain, who lost her firefighter son at the trade center, said at a protest Thursday. "Give them respect so 3,000 souls can rest in peace."
Other families support the move, saying the repository is a fitting site for the remains.
"We always wanted this to happen," said Monica Iken Murphy, whose husband died on 9/11. "To have their remains at their final resting place, where they took their last breath."