"It was very emotional for me," Perego said. "To think about this 14-year-old boy living his life — planning to have a life like everybody else. It was terrible. All he did was to touch an infected animal. The experience for me was very emotional. This was a real person, not just a science experiment."
DNA was successfully extracted from the bone samples and compared with Robison family descendants. The DNA matched. The bones were the remains of the boy.
Other experts at the Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics in Arizona examined the soil samples. Various tests involving heating, water, extraction and growing bacterial cultures were attempted.
Some parts of the bone fragments were also tested and even some wood from the few remaining coffin bits was tested.
None of the bacteria cultures grown from the samples were Bacillus anthracis.
Perego said the conditions in the soil were "less than ideal," but he hasn't given up yet.
The symptoms described from the historical records were spot on for anthrax, Perego said, but even without the physical confirmation, the diagnosis is pretty certain. "Although we didn't find what we were hoping for — and truthfully, it would have been a big surprise if we had recovered any anthrax spores after so many years — but the efforts gave us a chance to look at this closely from a medical and historical point of view," he said.
Other tests by a lab that specializes in extracting bacteria from bones are underway and may yet find physical proof.
But for now the image of the boy's skeleton stays in Perego's mind. "He was in the fetal position," he said. "He probably died in his sleep in severe pain."
After the exhumation, Perego said Proctor's bones were carefully placed in a new coffin with a white lining. The coffin was put in a cement box and sealed with a lid before being put back into the ground and covered again with earth.
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