NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Monday dismissed a case brought by families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks who said the city denied proper burials by sending debris containing possible human remains to a garbage dump.
The lawsuit, filed in 2005 by a group called WTC Families for a Proper Burial, sought to have the estimated 1.2 million to 1.8 million tons of rubble originally from the World Trade Center site transferred out of the Fresh Kills landfill located on New York’s borough of Staten Island.
The families said the city should move the residue that had been finely sifted multiple times to a more suitable location and have a cemetery created.
U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, saying the city’s decisions about where to off-load the debris “were difficult and complicated,” found the city had “acted responsibly” in bringing about a “swift and efficient recovery from the terrorists’ attack.”
“Plaintiffs have no property right in an undifferentiated, unidentifiable mass of dirt that may or may not contain the remains of plaintiffs’ loved ones,” he said.
There are no New York laws that require burying the debris in a different location, he said, “however worthy the citizen and however honorable the deceased.”
About 1,100 out of the 2,749 people killed at the World Trade Center site perished without leaving a trace. Full bodies were recovered for only 292 victims and partial remains for 1,357, sometimes only a fragment of a bone, the ruling noted.
Almost immediately after the attacks, all visible human remains were removed from the debris, bagged and taken to collecting points.
Victims’ families argued that debris surrounding some remains would have contained other bone fragments and remains.
The president of the WTC Families, Diane Horning, lost her son, Matthew Horning, in the attacks. His wallet and a piece of his occipital bone were recovered from debris at Fresh Kills.
Hellerstein concluding his ruling by suggesting a “beautiful nature preserve” and memorial at the garbage site and said the families of victims “have suffered a wrong for which there can be no remedy.”
“No matter the authority and power of this court, it cannot bring back the loved ones lost, and it cannot bring peace to the plaintiffs or surcease to society’s collective grief around the events of September 11, 2001.”
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Todd Eastham