Forensic Science Professor Deployed to Haiti to Assist in Morgue
A Nebraska Wesleyan University forensic science professor has been deployed to Haiti where she will spend two weeks working in a mobile morgue.
“We train for this,” said Melissa Connor, professor and director of Nebraska Wesleyan’s Forensic Science Program. “These are the situations you deal with when you work in the forensic science field.”
Connor was deployed to Haiti on February 24 as a member of a Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT). The team — which operates under the Department of Health and Human Services — is responsible for mobile morgue operations, forensic examination, victim identification and data collection. Connor’s deployment comes six weeks after a deadly earthquake ravaged Haiti’s capital city. The earthquake is now considered to be the worst natural disaster in modern times.
Connor was told to update her immunizations, pack a sleeping pad and fleece blanket, plenty of insect repellent and be prepared to eat MRE’s like those used by the military.
Despite the enormous loss of life in Haiti, Connor said DMORT crews have worked similar conditions including deployments after Hurricane Katrina, the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing and the Columbia Space Shuttle crash.
Connor is also no stranger to such assignments. In 2004, for example, the forensic archeologist was called to Baghdad, Iraq, where she spent 90 days exhuming graves and analyzing human remains from two mass graves. The evidence was used by the Iraqi Special Tribunal to prove war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by leaders of the former regime. She has assisted numerous exhumation teams in Nigeria, Cyprus, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Herzegovina, and Rwanda.
“I know it will be fast paced,” Connor said just prior to her deployment. “We know we’re not going to have all of the things we need for the job but we’ll do the best we can.”
Connor said she looks forward to sharing her experience with her students.
“Sharing these kinds of experiences with them is always an added benefit,” she said.
Connor will return to Lincoln around March 13.