A Decade Later, County Coroner Recalls The Scene
SOMERSET, Pa. (AP) – Despite being part of the largest crime scene in the Somerset County's history Coroner Wallace Miller said life has not really changed that much since Sept. 11, 2001.
“We pretty much operate the same way we did,” he said.
Miller remembers that day, almost 10 years ago, when a plane crashed into the field near Shanksville. He said it was about 80 degrees outside and he was in his family's funeral home in Somerset with his father, former coroner Wilbur Miller. They were chatting when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
“I said ‘boy I wouldn’t want to be the coroner up there right now,” Miller recalled.
Miller was continuing to watch the coverage when he received a call from the Cambria County coroner's office.
“She said “if you need any help with your plane crash we're available,”' Miller said.
The secretary told him that there were unconfirmed reports of a plane crashing in northern Somerset County.
Miller could not get a telephone to call out so he used a country radio to contact Somerset County Control. Workers there told Miller that there were unconfirmed reports of a plane crash in Lambertsville.
“At the time you didn’t understand what it really was,” he said.
Technological changes is one difference from then and now, Miller said. Now people could use their smartphones to find out information about breaking news events. When Miller arrived at the scene 10 years ago, there was not cellphone reception until providers erected temporary towers. Miller said that in 2001 he had a cellphone, but never used it.
“All the guys from the Department of Justice whipped out their cellphones and started making calls,” he said.
As time went on Miller found himself as a target for conspiracy theorist Internet bloggers. One blogger alleged that Miller had helped with a 9/11 cover-up and the government paid for an addition to the funeral home. But the addition was built three years before Sept. 11.
Some have even called Miller asking him about a government cover-up.
“If I was part of a conspiracy why would I tell you?,” he questioned one blogger.
Some bloggers allege that Flight 93 was shot down.
“It never really bothered me,” he said. “I knew in my heart we did the best we could do. I can't control people's opinions of me.”
As plans at the site continued, Miller did not serve on any of the committees, even though he was asked.
“The people of Somerset County didn’t elect me to be on a committee,” he said.
But that doesn’t keep Miller from having his opinions on what should be done with the site. In his mind the actual crash site should be left untouched. And that is the plan.
“I’ve always said that area is like a burial ground,” he said. “Ninety-two percent of the remains vaporized.”
Of the remains that were recovered only a small percentage were identified through DNA testing. Miller said he would like to see the unidentified remains buried at the crash site.
Miller's involvement with the crash is not over. FBI officials have told Miller if the suspected masterminds behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have a trial, he will be called to testify.
“That was kind of a traumatizing development,” he said.
Miller has never testified in a federal trial before. The furthest he has ever traveled to testify in a hearing is Allegheny County.
“I'm probably the only guy in America who wanted the terror trials here because I could drive there,” he said.
The FBI is holding the remains of the terrorists. The only open part of the case on Miller's end is what will happen to the remains after a trial, or if the masterminds enter a guilty plea.
Miller has been asked to speak at academic events including symposiums and at the Sipesville Lions Club. A group in Vancouver, British Columbia, even paid expenses for him to come and speak. Miller has a presentation that details the recovery steps.
“A lot of people were interested in what all we did,” he said.
Miller said it is hard for him to give advice on how an incident such as the Flight 93 crash can be handled since each county in Pennsylvania has their own procedures and access to equipment.
“You have to deal with it in your own way,” he said.
Miller has not attended an anniversary since the first one. He plans on attending this year. He remains in contact with the families.
“ I still get Christmas cards from family members,” he said.