Remembering 9/11: Local dentist remembers effort to identify the victims

Mike Tabor, 9/11 Dentist
Posted at 5:12 PM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 19:29:53-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Like so many of us on 9/11, Dr. Mike Tabor remembers exactly when he heard the news and how it changed everything.

" And I said, what’s wrong? And they said you haven’t heard? A plane has flown into the Twin Towers in NYC," said Dr. Tabor, a dentist in Nashville. "After about 5 minutes I said ma’am I don’t think I can do this procedure today, but would you stay with us and watch? And so for the next 4 hours, we watched our world change forever."

In the weeks that followed, it became clear that the New York City Medical Examiner's office was overwhelmed. So Dr. Tabor left Nashville for Ground Zero.

"Nothing in a photograph can do justice to what you see when you walk through this debris field with the thick stench of kerosene in the air one month after the incident," said Tabor.

Keep in mind, in 2001, DNA matching was still in its infancy, so dental records became the most reliable way to identify those we lost.

"The human teeth are particularly resilient when it comes to fire, heat," he said.

The moment that sticks with him the most was a letter he found, placed in a stack of dental records, from a little boy who lost his father. "And the letter says -- Dear doctors, thanks for helping to try to find my daddy, I sure hope he isn’t dead. Thank you very much, We love you all, Alex. -- And then we got the dental records and then we compared the dental records and it was Alex’s father," said Tabor.

After 11 months of working 24 hours a day, the 200 dental forensic scientists tasked with the unimaginable, ended their mission. Of the nearly 3,000 lost souls, 1,000 were properly identified.

"We wish more than anything in the world, that we could have provided identification to all of the victims who died on 9/11. We did the best we could and we got a third of them," he said.

He hoped, twenty years later, his story would be easier to tell. "7,300 days later, it’s a wound that won’t heal," said Tabor.

Then again, Dr. Tabor is glad he can still remember the pain so that the rest of us will never forget.

"I’m proud to have been a part of this, and I can’t let it go, because their legacy must be carried forward, and as long as I can do it, I’m going to do my part," said Tabor.