Lost & Found: Solving Cold Cases One Match at a Time #RSsos #amwriting
When you hear about a mass disaster, what event comes to mind? Earthquake? Tsunami? Terrorist attack?
That was my first thought until I attended the Killer Nashville writer’s conference in October. There I learned about what experts now call “The Nation’s Silent Mass Disaster” or the high number of missing and unidentified persons reported every year in the United States.
I walked into the session titled, Forensic Services for Human ID, hoping to obtain research for a story I was writing about a missing person investigation. The presenter, Todd Matthews (Director of Communications & Quality Assurance at the Forensics Services Unit UNT Center for Human Identification) did a stellar job highlighting this growing crisis. He also provided information about a free resource called National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or NamUs.
At the end of the presentation, my goal became more than writing this tool into a story plot. I was compelled to share this information with others.
Here are some alarming nationwide figures I found on a 2014 fact sheet reported on the NamUs webpage:
- 4,400 unidentified remains are found each year, 1,000 remain unidentified after one year
- 90,000 active missing person cases at any given time
NamUs, funded by the National Institute of Justice, is an unidentified person database that serves as a clearing house for two separate repositories– one for unidentified persons and one for missing persons. The NamUs database can be searched by anyone, but law enforcement and other agencies have access to more advanced tools built into the system.
This accessible tool works in a couple of different ways:
- If someone is missing, information can be entered with specific details to be searched such as tattoos, clothing, physical features, and jewelry. Family members can enter this information directly into the system. Law Enforcement can also assist them with this process.
- The records of unidentified persons can be entered by medical examiners and coroners.
- Once in the system, the records can be searched for potential matches.
- The unified system allows investigators to compare a potential match side-by-side.
- If there is a match, the information is presented to investigators for review.
As of October 2014:
- 20,917 total missing person cases were reported to NamUs – 7,537 cases were resolved (821 with NamUs assistance) -however 10,546 active cases remain in the database
- 11,621 total unidentified person cases were reported to NamUs – 1,471 cases were resolved (381 with NamUs assistance) – 9,845 active cases remain in the database
Short Video – The Missing and the Dead: Inside America’s Coldest Cases
Currently there are new upgrades in the works for the NamUs system. One tool will have the capability of reuniting family members during “critical incidents” such as multi-state or large-scale events. Some other features in development are a central database for victim accounting, a system for the public to self-report and make others aware they are safe during a disaster, and one that provides real-time victim data to assist emergency personnel in responding.
Although the NamUs program has provided several free tools to inform the public, many people are unaware of this resource. Which brings me back to the purpose of my post – helping to spread the word. So whether this information finds a place in one of your plots (which was encouraged during the session), or perhaps on your social media site, we are all playing a small role in helping to solve cold cases one match at a time.