Alumnus Spotlight

Alumnus assists at World Trade Center

Walters State alumnus and internationally respected fingerprint expert Arthur Bohanon of New Market has spent weeks at the World Trade Center site, using his expertise to assist in the massive effort to identify victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

Bohanon, a 1977 graduate, became the collegeís first-ever recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2000. He was called into service in New York by a presidential order on the day the twin towers collapsed. The recently retired Knoxville Police Department investigator says the experience is unlike anything he has dealt with before.

"Itís tough knowing that so many from the police department and other emergency agencies died here. I have seen so many of them. Anyone who works in those fields is someone I consider a brother," Bohanon said.

Bohanon is working as part of an elite unit established by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. There are ten such teams around the nation, with experts in the fields of fingerprint, dental and DNA identification. Bohanon has traveled around the world to assist in similar efforts. But events like a jungle plane crash in Guam or a deadly flood in North Carolina donít compare to the scope of what happened in New York City.

"I had been to the World Trade Center four years ago for a conference. When I saw the destruction in person, it took me days to find the words to describe it. I finally settled for Ďcomplete horror,í" Bohanon said.

Bohanon says the ground zero mortuary, where he worked 12 hour days from 7 p.m.-7 a.m., is just 250 feet away from the giant crane that is often shown in news coverage as debris is slowly and carefully removed.

"In most other countries, they would just pile dirt on top of the site and build a monument. We donít do that; we do anything we can do to help families get closure," Bohanon said.

After spending two weeks in New York, Bohanon returned home for a few days to take the break that is required for the team members. But he returned to New York again shortly thereafter and expects to be back and forth at least until December.  Though he hopes that this will be the last such assignment, Bohanon is aware that his services could be required elsewhere. He is also a member of other emergency response teams, including one for incidents involving weapons of mass destruction and another for international recovery of Americans killed abroad.

"I always keep my suitcases ready, packed with enough clothing to last for at least two weeks. I have to be ready to leave at a momentís notice."

Itís quite a demanding life for an investigator who retired from his police department duties in May. Still, Bohanon says those who work along side him are like a family. And the people of New York have been an inspiration.

" As we entered the ground zero area, people outside the perimeter offered us food, water or anything to try to help us and let us know that they care."

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