Un dentiste légiste se souvient du 11 septembre 2001 et du soutien offert par l’Armée du Salut

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« Sans l’Armée du Salut, je n’aurais pas pu faire mon travail », a déclaré le Dr Frank Stechey. « Elle a été la lumière au milieu des ténèbres. Je n’oublierai jamais son aide qui m’a permis de traverser cette période, au moment où j’en avais Ie plus besoin. »

À la suite de l’attaque terroriste contre le World Trade Center, le 11 septembre 2001, on a demandé au Dr Frank Stechey de faire partie d’une équipe d’identification dentaire, composée de 256 dentistes légistes qui ont travaillé pendant des mois à identifier plus de 3000 victimes. Quinze ans plus tard, il se rappelle le travail de l’Armée du Salut qui lui a procuré la force de persévérer dans sa tâche ardue.

« Personne n’était préparé à la dévastation que nous avons constatée », a affirmé le Dr Stechey. « L’examen de restes humains et la vérification de fiches dentaires s’avéraient accablants et lugubres. Ça me remue encore. Même après quinze ans. »

Le Dr Stechey est arrivé à New York quelques jours après l’attentat. « On ne pouvait pas ignorer la colonne de fumée et de suie qui s’élevait des débris du World Trade Centre », a-t-il souligné.

En quelques heures, le Dr Stechey et son équipe se sont employés ardemment à identifier les restes de mères, de filles, de pères, de fils, de pompiers, de policiers, de travailleurs de l’administration portuaire et d’auxiliaires médicaux.

« Une épaisse couche de poussière grise recouvrait tout : il était difficile de respirer, d’avaler et de parler », a-t-il précisé. « Comme nous travaillions jusqu’à la tombée de la nuit, nous étions épuisés physiquement et psychologiquement. Dans la plupart des cas, on ne pouvait déterminer s’il s’agissait bel et bien de restes humains. Il était particulièrement difficile d’examiner les restes de premiers intervenants. Nous faisions partie d’une communauté dont l’objectif commun était d’aider autrui dans un contexte difficile. Qui aurait cru que des premiers intervenants figureraient parmi les victimes? »

L’équipe avait donc besoin d’une pause, et juste à l’extérieur du bureau du médecin légiste en chef se trouvait la fourgonnette des services d’urgence de l’Armée du Salut. Au « Sal’s Café », une tasse de café a immédiatement dissipé le stress accumulé. « L’environnement était poussiéreux et sec », a mentionné le Dr Stechey. « Le café m’a soulagé. »

Au cours des deux semaines qui ont suivi, le Dr Stechey et son équipe ont continué leur tâche d’identification de centaines de victimes.

« Depuis mon arrivée jusqu’à mon départ, l’Armée du Salut nous a fourni tout ce dont nous avions besoin : du café, un hot dog, une bouteille d’eau, de l’écoute attentive et des lettres d’encouragement jointes aux collations. »

Après avoir exercé sa profession de dentiste durant 45 ans, le Dr Stechey a fini par prendre sa retraite. En guise de reconnaissance particulière pour le soutien qu’il a reçu de l’Armée du Salut après les événements du 11 septembre 2001, il donne de son temps en siégeant au conseil consultatif de Hamilton, en surveillant une marmite de Noël pendant la période des fêtes et en travaillant bénévolement pour les services d’urgence et d’aide aux sinistrés de l’Armée du Salut.

« Si quelqu’un m’avait dit avant les événements du 11 septembre que j’aurais besoin de l’Armée du Salut, je ne l’aurais pas cru. J’aurais eu tellement tort », a-t-il conclu.

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