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Fast Class Video: Dave Boyer on Human Identification in Mass Fatality Incidents

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth part of our Fast Class video series, which showcases faculty and staff members discussing their areas of interest and expertise.

The process of human identification fascinates the public.

That’s why such shows as CSI, NCIS, Bones, and Criminal Minds are among the most popular on television.

Members of the Keuka College community, especially students in the Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP) don’t have to watch TV to get their fill of the subject. They have a real-life expert on campus.

David Boyer, or “DNA Dave” as he is known at Keuka, is assistant professor of criminal justice and program director for criminal justice in ASAP. He came to Keuka from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, where he served as program manager for the Department of Defense (DoD) DNA reference specimen collection program and director of operations of the DoD DNA Repository from 1997 to 2006.

Boyer assisted in developing DNA identification operating procedures for the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) and served as team leader for the AFDIL at numerous mass fatality incidents including Hurricane Katrina, Space Shuttle Columbia, United Airlines Flight 93 (Shanksville, Pa.), and America Airlines Flight 261 (the Pentagon).

In the fall of 2008, Boyer co-authored a training manual for DNA evidence collection in mass fatality incidents for the U.S. Department of State and traveled to the Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid to train Iraqi scientists in DNA sample collection from human remains.

According to Boyer, there are two classifications of identification: presumptive and positive.

“Presumptive identification refers to an identification based on circumstantial evidence,” he explained. “Things such as dog tags, clothing and personal effects found on a body, tattoos, and even visual identification by family members are all examples of presumptive identification.”

Positive identification, said Boyer, is based on scientific certainty rather than circumstantial evidence.

“This degree of certainty is to the exclusion of all others,” said Boyer. “Methods of positive identification include comparisons of fingerprints, radiographs (x-rays), dental features, and DNA. Common to all of these is the process of comparing known references to post-mortem (after death) evidence. Without appropriate references, these scientific identification processes are impossible.”

Keuka’s criminal justice program, said Boyer, “addresses the concept of positive and presumptive identifications and is just one example of the interesting topics we explore.”

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