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Victim identification and nationalities

Police and Coronial Services are working with urgency and care to identify the victims of the Christchurch terror attacks.

An internationally approved process for disaster management identification (DVI) is being followed.

Police lead this process through the gathering of evidence and working with families of those who are missing.

The Coroner must then confirm the victims’ identities.

“We acknowledge that the last 48 hours have been the most horrific in these families lives.

We understand it is an added trauma for them that they have not been able to bury their loved ones quickly, according to their religious duty,” says Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha.

“We are working closely with Imams from local and national Mosques and the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand.

This is an unprecedented event and the support of the Muslim leaders and their community has been invaluable,” said Mr Haumaha.

Police and Coronial Services are very focused and working together closely to run the process in a way that is culturally appropriate, robust, and with speed.

New Zealand’s Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall, two other coroners and four support staff are in Christchurch to provide additional capability and support to the locally-based coroners to help speed up the process.

“We, alongside Police and the forensic pathologists, are working as quickly as we can to establish the identity of those who lost their lives so tragically,” says Judge Marshall.

“Identification hearings will start this afternoon and we are anticipating that the process of returning the deceased will commence tonight.

This is a complex task which must be completed according to New Zealand law.

We are working closely with community representatives to explain the process.”

The nationalities of the victims cannot be confirmed at this stage.

Information on this will be released as soon as possible as the coronial process continues.

“This is a long and complex process and all organisations involved are working as quickly as possible to return loved ones to their families but it’s vital we have certainty around cause of death for any future court proceedings,” Detective Superintendent Peter Read says.

The five stages are:

Postmortem phases: collecting detail from the victims

Phase 1: Scene
• The deceased are examined and documented in situ, then taken to the mortuary.

Phase 2: Mortuary
• The deceased is examined in detail by a pathologist, forensic dentist, fingerprint officer and Police DVI team
• Personal effects (such as jewelry, clothing) are photographed in situ, then collected, examined, cleaned, rephotographed and secured.

Antemortem phase: information about missing person is brought in from outside

Phase 3: Antemortem Information Retrieval
• Police gather information about possible victims, such as
o descriptions of appearance, clothing, jewelry, photos
o medical and dental records, x-rays
o fingerprints, from objects or official records (commonly collected by some overseas agencies)
o DNA samples, such as from a hairbrush, toothbrush or blood sample.

Phase 4: Reconcilliation
• Information from postmortem and antemortem phases are brought together to find a match
• At an identification hearing, the Coroner is presented evidence of the match by fingerprint, dentistry, DNA and Police DVI experts and decides if identification has been established
• Family and/or foreign authorities are advised, then media.

Phase 5: Debrief
• People involved in the DVI process keep each other updated throughout all stages
• Support and welfare is made available to staff including stress and grief counsellors, chaplains, Victim Support and police welfare officers.


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