GULFPORT --- A Hurricane Katrina victim mourned and buried, previously known only as Will, has been identified as a 78-year-old Pass Christian retiree.
James L. Blair, whose birth name was Raymond Wallace, was identified this week through information including a DNA sample provided by one of his sons. Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove said an apparent computer glitch prevented his name from showing up in searches of a database set up by Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, a disaster-response volunteer group funded by FEMA.
Along with Strength, the other nameless South Mississippi victim, Will was buried in Gulfport in February. They were buried near Faith, Hope and Charity, three women still unknown nearly 38 years after they died in Hurricane Camille.
"I had assumed all this time that he had been washed back into the ocean and would never be recovered," said Robert Wallace, a son who lives in Lake Panasoffkee, Fla."I'm relieved to know he was found, but I want him to rest in peace. We're not planning on moving his body. He loved the Coast."
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A DNA sample Wallace provided in a previous visit helped confirm his father's identity.
Wallace said relatives thought Blair had evacuated.
"We lived here in 1969," Wallace said. "After Camille, my father said he would never stay for another hurricane."
But Blair stayed. His body was recovered about a block away from his home, Hargrove said.
Wallace came in search of his father when he failed to hear from him. He walked the old neighborhood and visited shelters.
Charles Blair, another son from Georgia, visited Hargrove's office a couple of months ago and they began checking other records. The DNA sample, in addition to evidence of gall bladder surgery and partially amputated fingers confirmed the identity.
The computer glitch that failed to turn up Blair's name may have been something as simple as the victim's physical description entered into the computer "as 'amputation' instead of 'partial amputation,' " said Hargrove. "We ran the computer search numerous times and his name never turned up."
Wallace said his father was from Hickman, Ky., but preferred life in the Pass.
"He loved the water. He loved to fish. He was happy here," said Wallace. "Knowing his body was recovered and that he had a proper burial brings me comfort."
Blair's was among 169 bodies recovered in Harrison and Hancock counties. He and the other unknown man were buried with the names Will and Strength to honor how Coast residents faced recovery from America's worst natural disaster.
Donated headstones at Evergreen Cemetery give descriptions of Will and Strength. Wallace said he will return to Gulfport for a ceremony to set a new headstone to properly identify his father.