Take 100 puzzle pieces and throw them into the wind during a hurricane. Now hire a team of forensic and medical specialists to find enough of them to recognize the picture.
That is the work Colorado State University Police Department Corporal Scott Anthony does, outside of preventing crime on campus.
Anthony is part of Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, DMORT, a division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services responsible for identifying the deceased in areas with more deaths than local government can handle.
Anthony joined DMORT in 1996 while working as coroner in Weld County on request of the regional manager. He took on the opportunity as a way to help people searching for their family members during tragic times.
â€œI view it as a calling. Weâ€™ll go where we need to go because those families need that from us,â€ Anthony said.
DMORT members assist in areas where local resources are not enough to handle the amount of deaths. Team members often have fewer than 48 hours to travel to the site.
Years of constant training for a massive disaster became real when Anthony was sent to Ground Zero for a month as a medical investigator after the 9/11 World Trade Center decimation.
â€œI see this heap of twisted, smoldering metal and I remember walking and just looking at all the emergency personnel,â€ Anthony said.
A surreal sight, the heaps of rubble and floodlights looked like an expensive Hollywood disaster movie set. The smell of decomposing bodies and diesel fuel let Anthony know that it was no summer blockbuster.
â€œIt just absolutely overwhelmed me,â€ Anthony said.
DMORTâ€™s goal is to identify victims of such tragedies and return them to their torn family members. A Family Assistance Center team works with the families to gather information about the deceased and provide counseling and funeral arrangements, among other services, to help ease the grieving process.
â€œThe last nice thing someone is able to do for those victims is to identify them and return them to their families,â€ said Region 8 Director Lance Petersen.
Anthonyâ€™s next deployment was a 3-month stay in the Lake Carter area of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The area was unrecognizable compared to his visit in 2000 to DMORTâ€™s training facility. Houses floated from their foundations while a massive oak tree stood strong near the broken levies.
â€œIt almost seemed like a third world country,â€ Anthony said.
Workers ate military-style meals and bathed from garden hoses, under constant mental and physical evaluation. Workers found to be under too much duress were sent home.
â€œWhat you do is you condition yourself to do the best you can to block out the emotional part of what youâ€™re doing,â€ Anthony said. â€œThe approach that I take is that Iâ€™m working for that family.â€
The father of two worked in a station of 75 refrigerated trailers â€“â€“ nicknamed Memorial Park â€“â€“ loaded with corpses. He later searched for caskets displaced and carried off by the flood waters, sharpshooter in hand to fend off snakes and alligators.
Caskets were still being identified even after he left in December.
â€œI personally relied on prayer a lot, just to get through what I was subjected to,â€ Anthony said.
DMORT team members create strong relationships while staying in the areas and well beyond the time they work. Anthony recalled a couple who have been married for 10 years after working together.
â€œYou end up being dependant on each other for your sanity ÂÂâ€“â€“ for support,â€ Anthony said.
Anthony still works for DMORT as part of their Weapons of Mass Destruction team, which decontaminates bodies of radiation and other dangerous effects from the disasters, but has not been deployed since Katrina.
This story comes to light at a time of transition. Anthony will be leaving CSUPD on Dec. 21 to join the BNSF Railway Police force, but said he enjoyed his time at CSU.
â€œItâ€™s just a new opportunity,â€ Anthony said.
The 5-year CSUPD member is thankful for his previous work with the deceased and their families. His work with DMORT and as a coroner is his way of giving back to the world, which is something he advises students to do.
â€œI just think that makes us a better person overall,â€ Anthony said. â€œHow you define it is up to you.â€
Crime Beat Reporter Rachel Childs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.