Body of man who perished in Ike is identified

January 2, 2010 8:49:51 PM PST
There is closure for a family who lost a loved one more than a year ago in Hurricane Ike. A body that was found just a few months ago has now been identified. Family and friends had been hoping for some kind of break in the search and they finally got one. Harry Bingham, 61, moved to Texas about 20 years ago. After Hurricane Ike, he was one of those who went missing. Now more than a year after the storm, his family finally knows what happened to him.

When human remains were found in a pasture about three miles north of Smith Point, Harry Bingham's friends wondered: could this be him?

"Hopefully this is our closure," said friend Charles Haubois.

Now several months after that discovery, it appears they have their answer.

"Thursday night, the sheriff's office called me," said Bingham's daughter, Kimberly Cennimo.

Speaking to us by phone from New Jersey, Cennimo confirms authorities have positively identified the remains as her father. She says it was a DNA sample she provided which finally brought her family the painful answer.

"My grandfather, he's really not in very good health and the worst part was telling my grandfather that his son was dead," Cennimo said.

It has been a difficult journey for Cennimo, who learned her father was one of those missing after Ike. It would take almost a year after the storm before his remains were found, and even then she says it would take even more months of red tape and delays before finally getting a positive identification.

"It felt like I was just hitting a brick wall and I felt completely helpless," she said.

While Bingham's family has their answer, others don't. Still missing after the storm are Susan Shealy, Bingham's girlfriend, along with Sandy Walton, and Glennis Dunn.

The Laura Recovery Center says remains of a woman matching Shealy's description are at the Galveston County morgue, but DNA testing has not been completed.

"To never know what happened, to me, is just unimaginable," said Sandy Stafford of the Laura Recovery Center.

Something Cennimo knows, as difficult as it is, at least she has some closure.

"At least now I can lay his remains to rest and I can, sorry, start to try to heal," Cennimo said, fighting back tears.

Bingham's daughter plans to travel to Texas next week to claim his body. She plans to hold a memorial service for him, after which she says she plans to sprinkle his ashes into the ocean. A request, she says, he made before he died.

A March 2009 report from the National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Ike was responsible for 112 deaths in the United States, 81 of those deaths were here in Texas and 17 were directly related to the storm. The majority were indirect deaths, like carbon monoxide poisoning from generators used to power homes without electricity. Remnants of Ike claimed lives as far away as Ohio and Pennsylvania. Total damages are estimated at $29 billion, making Ike the fourth-costliest storm in U.S. history.