News From Our Brownsville, Texas Cosmetic Dental Practice

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Dr. Tara R. Rios 
Your Brownsville Cosmetic Dentist
Effort to ID victims lost in rubble changes dentist


By MELISSA MONTOYA The Brownsville Herald


Like many people, Tara Rios watched on television as a passenger jet struck the World Trade Center 12 years ago.


It didn’t dawn on her right away that it was a terrorist attack, she said. “The first time,” Rios said, “you think it’s an accident, and I think that’s the pre-9/11 mind.”


But, if it happened today, Rios, now 42, said, people wouldn’t have to wait for a second jet to know it was, in fact, an attack.


Staring at the TV screen that Tuesday morning, it never crossed Rios’s mind how involved she would become in the mass tragedy. But in four months Rios was in New York City working alongside a team of experts to help identify human remains from the wreckage at ground zero, the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed.


“You see it on the news and you get one perspective,” Rios said, “but then, when you actually step in and are part of it, it’s very humbling to see it.”


She was never at ground zero, but she does remember the smell, Rios said.

“You’re close enough to smell it,” Rios said. “Four months later, you could still smell it in the air — it smelled like burning rubble.”


For a week, Rios, who is a dentist in Brownsville, worked 12-hour daily shifts examining dental records and matching them to victims.


Previously, she had learned how to identify bodies as a participant in a forensic odontology fellowship, but she never thought she would need to use those skills.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Rios hasn’t needed to use her forensic knowledge for a mass tragedy, but she does help law enforcement identify human remains.


The New York Medical Examiner’s Office was in charge of the identification process, Rios said. They had a few teams on rotation working to identify people, she said.

“I think it’s good they rotate people through,” Rios, of South Padre Island, said. “After you are there for a little while you are tired, you’ve kind of seen enough.”


Still, Rios said, though she enjoys her job as a dentist, she sees her work in forensics as a service to others.


She served as a state representative in Texas, and she said her experience in New York had a lot to do with her decision to serve in public office.


“It made you realize that we are all important,” Rios said. “We should all be doing something to make our country better.”


She said the work identifying individuals made her proud to be an American because of the great lengths the teams went to give everyone an identity.


“Even when we were doing the IDs, it was a very American thing to do, that every person matters,” Rios said. “This is someone’s mother, this is someone’s father and they deserved to be found.”


While in New York, Rios said she was surprised by the strength and resilience of New Yorkers.


“They were very much like ‘we are going to rebuild.’ They were resilient and that was part of the atmosphere there,” Rios said. “The country at that time was so somber and afraid, and New Yorkers were not afraid. They were going past the site, going to work, getting up every day.”


She said that experience changed her.


“I’m less naive about the dangers in the world, but I also have so much faith in humanity,” Rios said. “I have seen it, people are more good.”


“The country is different. We are all different,” she added.




Dentist Recalls 9/11 Aftermath


BROWNSVILLE - Dentist Tara Rios is reflecting on the work she did in New York after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.


Rios helped identify some of the victims after the attack. She said the experience changed her life.


"I think we remember the moment we saw it," Rios said.


Rios was recruited to help identify some of the 2,800 victims who died in the World Trade Center. She was part of a forensic dentistry fellowship at that time.


"Our job was to find that one person and give them a name and give them back to the family to be buried," Rios said.


"Much of the work was tedious. It's in front of the computer. The computer program did part of it, but it required a forensic dentist to look at the images and begin comparisons," she said.


Rios said the work helped give many families closure.


She said one of the most touching moments was when she realized they had identified a first responder.


"If it was a first responder, fire or police, they actually had a group that would come ... many times they would come with bagpipes. They would be playing as they picked up the remains to be given back to the families. It was very powerful," Rios said.

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