Monday, September 24, 2007

Missouri needs DNA matches to solve the many missing person's cases.

We need DNA matches in MO--it is crazy that we are not doing this already. Time to wake up Missouri Law Makers and Law Enforcement. And they can't use the excuse that it is too costly as this is a federal program without charges to the state. All family members of the missing should contact local Law Enforcment and ask them to submit DNA.

Times Herald-Record on Line.

Times Herald-Record
September 23, 2007
— Three years ago, city police hiked into the woods east of Dolson Avenue where a man sat alone on a make-shift recliner.

He was wearing blue jeans when they found him, blue jeans with a gray button-down shirt over a white shirt. Nearby were a pair of size 9 black sneakers and a fleece jacket with "Rockland County Grandparents Association" printed on it.

He'd been dead a long time, and if anyone knows his name, they've never come forward to say so.

EVERY YEAR, THOUSANDS DIE and join the ranks of the unidentified dead. A survey of nearly 2,000 medical examiners and coroners across the country found nearly 13,500 sets of unidentified human remains on record. There might be more because not everyone keeps the records the same way or at all, according to the survey released in June by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics. Some have estimated the number closer to 40,000.

"We refer to it as a mass disaster over time," said George Adams, program coordinator for the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas.

Adams knows why identification is important. He can hear it in the voices of those looking for lost relatives and read it in the e-mails sleep-deprived parents send him at 3 a.m. The family and friends of the missing seek answers. They depend on a mixture of investigators and scientists for the closure only information can bring, even if that gives them a body to bury.

The key to identification, Adams said, is feeding a national database called CODIS — the Combined DNA Index System. Once a profile is entered, the system can sift it through the database for possible matches. CODIS will continue to search every month automatically. But CODIS can only work if it has DNA samples to sort. To make a match, it needs two samples: one from the body and one that can positively identify the person. That second sample could come from the person or from a biological family member. Unfortunately, Adams said, there have been many cases in which someone has found a body but scientists couldn't identify it, because they didn't have that second sample.

"It's very, very simple, super simple," Adams said. "We need to get the family sample from anyone who has a missing person."

The family sample is one part of connecting the gap between the missing and the unidentified. Another is the sample from the body. That usually has to come from law enforcement, coroners or medical examiners. Sometimes, the sample never makes it to the lab.

"It's not unusual for a new sheriff to come in and say, 'Guess what I found in my evidence room; I found a skeleton,'" Adams said.

It's impossible to tell how many bodies and their DNA profiles have disappeared over the years into evidence lockers, the ground or cremation fires. Recent efforts have sought to change that.

The National Institute of Justice helps fund the Center for Identification and has opened federal resources, such as CODIS, to all jurisdictions across the country. The center even provides collection kits and analyzes them for free.

Adams said more agencies take advantage of the service as they learn how DNA analysis can focus or redirect investigations. Scientists at the center have discovered bodies thought to be women that are actually men and found dental records aren't always correct.

"Don't dispose of a body, don't bury a body unless you've saved an appropriate sample," Adams said.

NEW YORK AGENCIES use the New York state police laboratory in Albany for similar investigations. Mike Brownstein, identification officer for Middletown police, said little has changed in the collection processes on the ground, but the science in the laboratories has made DNA much easier to use in police work. For example, he can send smaller samples than before — important in cases where little is available.

There wasn't much tissue left on the man found in the woods east of Dolson. A Broadloom City employee found him in a place where homeless people had often walked or camped. Police said it looked like the man just sat down one day and never got up. Middletown detectives sent his femur to the state police lab to be entered in CODIS. Every month, the system searches his profile against those entered into the CODIS missing persons database. So far, the system hasn't identified the man.

The director at Calvary Cemetery in New Windsor recently looked up the man's plot for a reporter. Orange County Social Services Department paid the $1,600 to have the man cremated and buried. He lies below a covering of grass and earth, next to the ashes of another unidentified body. No marker says he's there. No relatives visit his grave. He's buried up on a hill close to the road, so he'll be easy to dig up if anyone ever learns his name.

Looking for someone?
Family members searching for a missing relative should submit a DNA sample for entry in the Combined DNA Index System, recommends George Adams, program coordinator for the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas. Laboratories such as the one at the University of North Texas can process the samples and submit them to CODIS, but they require the samples to come from agencies such as law enforcement or coroner. Adams recommends relatives of missing persons contact their local law enforcement agency.


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