Wellington, March 17, 2019
Police and Coroner 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.
Deputy Police Commissioner Wallace Haumaha said that 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,” he said.
Mr Haumaha said that the Police 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,” he said.
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, he added.
Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall sand that she and 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. Identification hearings will start this afternoon and we are anticipating that the process of returning the deceased will commence tonight,” she said.
“This is complex task which must be completed according to New Zealand law and that officials are working closely with community representatives to explain the process. The nationalities of the victims cannot be confirmed at this stage,” she added.
Detective Superintendent Peter Read said that further information 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,” he said.
The five stages are:
Post-Mortem 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 jewellery, clothing) are photographed in situ, then collected, examined, cleaned, re-photographed 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 (a) descriptions of appearance, clothing, jewellery, photos (b) medical and dental records, x-rays (c) fingerprints, from objects or official records (commonly collected by some overseas agencies) (d) DNA samples, such as from a hairbrush, toothbrush or blood sample.
Phase 4: Reconciliation
Information from Post-Mortem and Antemortem Phases are brought together to find a match
(a) 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 (b) 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.