They collect bodies. They take DNA. They look for signs of murder. They are the Dead Collectors of Hurricane Katrina and they are a freelance band of volunteer “death experts” from around the country who helped process bodies. They are morticians, medical examiners and anthropologists. A good friend of mine returned from Katrina collecting with the horrors of her experience rotting in her mind. Katrina re-defined the meaning of gruesome for her and how callousness and disregard led dying lives into the dead.
Almost all the dead were poor or old or they lived on the street. Most died from drowning. Others died of thirst by abandonment. Each body was fingerprinted. DNA samples were logged. All corpses were checked for signs of murder: Gunshots, stab wounds, strangulation marks…
My friend was surprised how many bodies held gunshot wounds to the back or to the head and those killings required autopsies. Bodies were implanted with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip made by VeriChip so corpses could easily be tracked and identified no matter where they were moved for refrigerated storage before burial. The chips were donated for Katrina but on the real market they fetch $250 each.
Chips were implanted in a shoulder of the corpses. Each chip emits a 16 digit identification number that now serves as their “name” in the land of the dead where billfolds and other forms of ID are forever lost. The chips were never used to identify the dead before. In 2004 the chips were approved by the FDA to track pets and high-security defense workers.
You have to be within six inches of the chip to read it with a handheld scanner the size of a pack of cigarettes. Katrina’s most distinctive legacy many not be in the destruction of property but in the desolation of unclaimed and unidentified bodies. Some of the old dead erupted from tombs and caskets and mixed with the freshly deceased.
A new “Katrina Pauper’s Cemetery” will serve as the new final resting place for all those bodies as well as for the unforgivable sins of the living unearthed against the corpses of conscience.