Sheila M. Dashkow, 61, of Cherry Hill, a forensic dentist who helped identify victims of national tragedies, including the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, died Friday, Dec. 13, of pancreatic cancer.
She spent six months at the World Trade Center disaster site, working on her days off to try to identify remains.
That experience was a turning point in her career, and it became her passion to help families solve cases of their missing loved ones.
"She saw the relief that people could get from knowing their loved ones were no longer missing," said her daughter, Stacey Cerasi of Haddon Township, where Dr. Dashkow died. "She always said there is no price on peace of mind."
As an early responder, she also helped identify victims of other national tragedies. She spent two weeks at the Gulf Coast identifying Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005.
Dr. Dashkow had been the deputy chief of the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office since 2008. She also worked for the Burlington County Medical Examiner's Office and the southern Regional Medical Examiner's Office for Atlantic County.
She was among only a handful of board-certified forensic odontologists in New Jersey and was considered one of the leading experts in the field.
Dr. Dashkow trained under Haskell Askin, a pioneer in forensic odontology, whose identification of a bite mark led to the conviction of Jesse Timmendequas in the 1994 murder of Megan Kanka. The case led to the Megan's Law movement in New Jersey and elsewhere.
Like her mentor, Dr. Dashkow trained other forensic odontologists and would lend her expertise whenever needed.
"She would drop everything to do a forensic case," said Donna Fontana, a forensic anthropologist with the New Jersey State Police. "She did whatever was needed to better the field and help others."
Her testimony identifying human bite marks in criminal cases often provided the breakthrough investigators needed. This year, her identification of impressions left on the back of a Sharon Hill toddler led to assault and other charges against his mother.
In 2008, Dr. Dashkow spearheaded a program with Fontana to begin entering dental information into national databases for New Jersey's 300 cases of unidentified remains and more than 1,000 missing-person cases.
Born in Philadelphia, she graduated from La Salle College in 1974. She received a doctor of dental surgery degree from Temple School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1978.
She had a dental practice in Pennsauken for 36 years until her recent retirement.
She was president of the New Jersey State Board of Dental Examiners at the time of her death. She had served as vice president in 2012. She also served on numerous other boards and was a frequent lecturer.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by her husband of 14 years, Michael; a stepdaughter, Sheera; a stepson, Steven; a brother, and two sisters.
A celebration of life was held Tuesday, Dec. 18. A Funeral Mass will be held Wednesday, Dec. 19, at 10 a.m. at Christ Our Light Catholic Church, 402 W. Kings Highway, Cherry Hill. Interment will be in Locustwood Memorial Park, Cherry Hill.
Donations may be made to the Pancreatic Action Network, 1500 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 200, Manhattan Beach, Calif. 90266.