State mortuary response team deployed to Lee County to identify storm victims

Coroner's heartbreaking tornado response

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -Doug Williams, a funeral director in Cullman sees death on a daily, but it never gets easy. Things got difficult on Sunday.

That’s when an EF-4 Tornado sweep through Lee County killing 23 people. That was when Williams got the call from Lee County Coroner Bill Harris to deploy the state mortuary response team for help. The team is dispatched in mass casualty events.

“As the evening progressed, I got another call from him saying we got four, we got seven, we got nine and I kept getting those phone calls,” continued Williams. "As I was in route from here the last phone call I got before I got there was, we got 20 for sure and I think maybe 20 more. So, I have 40 in my mind and I think I’m going to really have to start rolling assets and personnel, but once I got there, they were down to the 23.”

Four children, and 19 adults ranging in ages six to 89 were killed.

"The destruction from things like this can be pretty rough to look at and then children and we dealt with these kids that passed away in this situation,” reflected Williams.

The team has people that work with family members to help with determining identifying factors like hair color, scars and tattoos. They also have equipment to help in search and recovery efforts but wasn’t needed this time around. Local law enforcement stepped in to help.

“The sheriff down there was very helpful. He gave me some investigators that were extremely helpful. They knew some of the people, so it helped us in identification because they live there. That was a tremendous help. The challenges, I guess was some of the destruction of the decedents made some of the things difficult, but we were able to work through that.”

Fortunately, Lee County is home to one of the state mortuary response command centers. the others are set up in Mobile and Cullman.

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