Friday, July 06, 2007

We need to require DNA in missing person's cases

Kelly Jolkowski, Mother of Missing Jason Jolkowski
President and Founder,
Project Jason
Read our Voice for the Missing Blog



Bills would require DNA help in missing person cases

SALEM, Ore. — Their faces were everywhere — first on fliers passed out in their hometown, then on billboards and even on the cover of People Magazine and in constant rotation on CNN.

After months of searching, the bodies of Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis, classmates and fellow dance squad members from Oregon City, were found in August 2002, buried in a sadistic neighbor's backyard. They would have graduated from high school this month.

Now their mothers have joined with other families across the nation who don't know if spouses and siblings are dead or alive to press for passage of laws requiring police to expand their searches in missing person cases.

Their proposal — which is under consideration by legislators in Oregon, Connecticut, Indiana and New Jersey — centers on the nearly 50,000 unidentified bodies that are held at morgues across the country while an estimated 105,000 missing persons cases remain open.

Under the bill, police would be directed to send DNA samples from bodies that remain unidentified after 30 days to a central laboratory, where they'd be entered into a national database for comparison to missing-persons cases. Families could submit their own DNA samples for loved ones who have been missing for more than a month.

Similar legislation is already in place in Colorado, Washington state and the District of Columbia, said Kelly Jolkowski, one of the founders of the Campaign for the Missing, whose 19-year-old son Jason disappeared without a trace six years ago from their home in Nebraska. Future campaigns are being organized in Missouri, New York, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, she said.

"How do I know some body in some morgue somewhere isn't my son, and they just didn't get the DNA from his body, so I will never know?" Jolkowski asked. "Families can go for years and maybe forever without an answer because these processes are not in place, and they should be."

Lending her name to the bill has made some painful memories flood back, said Lori Pond. In the earliest days of her daughter's disappearance, police thought 12-year-old Ashley Pond might be a runaway and she had to print her own fliers and hand them out on the streets of their hometown.

"There are times it brings up the loss of my daughter, but I am hoping for good to come out of all of this," Pond said.

Michelle Duffy, mother of 13-year-old Miranda Gaddis, said that in one way she and Pond were lucky, since their daughters' cases drew the national spotlight and, when the girls' bodies were found, positive identification took less than 24 hours.

Hundreds of other families never get the same kind of resolution, she said.

"If the kids wouldn't have disappeared in the same way, from the same place, no one would have cared," Duffy said. "If it weren't for Miranda disappearing, you never would have heard Ashley's name and that's sad."

Without identification, Jolkowski said, bodies may be buried in pauper's graves, or cremated, lost to a family forever.


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