LOCAL NEWS

Utah company examines mass grave to identify remains of Tulsa Race Massacre

Sep 20, 2022, 6:59 PM | Updated: Sep 21, 2022, 11:33 am

MILLCREEK, Utah — A team of Utah experts with unique expertise has started to examine a grave site for hundreds of people killed in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Sorting out the remains will not be easy for the team at Intermountain Forensics in Millcreek but recent advances in technology have made their work possible.

“It’s been a solemn honor,” said Danny Hellwig, director of laboratory development. “We’ve been contracted to take 14 bodies, of which we’ve got two samples; one bone sample and one tooth sample.”

All of them were found in a mass grave in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hellwig said, “Using some really intense forensic DNA to come up with identification for genetic genealogy.”

It’s technology that not many people have, but Intermountain Forensics hopes it will help better understand what happened.

Tulsa was recognized nationally for its affluent African American community known as the Greenwood District. In June 1921, a series of events nearly destroyed the entire Greenwood area. Tulsa was recognized nationally for its affluent African American community known as the Greenwood District. In June 1921, a series of events nearly destroyed the entire Greenwood area. Intermountain Forensics in Millcreek is using advanced DNA technology to identify the remains of some victims from the Tulsa Race Massacre. (KSL TV) Danny Hellwig, Director of Laboratory Development at Intermountain Forensics. (KSL TV) Intermountain Forensics in Millcreek is using advanced DNA technology to identify the remains of some victims from the Tulsa Race Massacre. (KSL TV)

“This is probably the most complicated types of forensic DNA investigations you can have. We’re talking about samples from 100 years ago,” he said. “They were not preserved very well.”

The Tulsa Race Massacre erupted after a young black man was accused of assaulting a white girl, though it’s not clear what exactly happened.

The Greenwood District, otherwise known as Black Wall Street, was leveled destroying many successful black-owned businesses and homes.

“If I’ve learned anything from this project, it’s that people don’t really know about this. It’s unfortunate. This is a pretty dark day in our nation’s history and it’s one that we really need to recognize and understand,” Hellwig said.

His team will try to match DNA findings with existing genealogical databases. The work is difficult, but he said it’s important that we all have a better understanding of what went wrong over those two dark days.

“We won’t stop until we get a result. We’ll keep working to put names to these bodies,” he promised.

Intermountain Forensics is a nonprofit organization.

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Utah company examines mass grave to identify remains of Tulsa Race Massacre