Tag Archives | DNA

New missing persons database NamUs starts solving cases

Good article highlighting the benefits of NamUs.  If you have a missing loved one, I highly suggest you create a profile for them on NamUs.


NamUs Website

Karen, a homemaker and mother of two from Indiana, has long had trouble falling asleep. About five years ago, to help herself wind down, she started going through missing persons sites on the Web, trying to match a person who had vanished with a John or Jane Doe whose remains had been found but whose name still remained a mystery.

When she started her informal cure for insomnia, Karen had to switch back and forth between an array of various sites – those that had information on missing persons, and those that had information on unidentified remains.

As of this year, Karen didn’t have to switch back and forth anymore. The National Forensic Science Technology Center, which is located in Largo, launched the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs. It contains two databases – one for unidentified remains and one for missing persons – and search engines the general public can use to find a match.

Last month, Karen got a hit on the system, according to officials with the technology center.

In the unidentified remains database, she spotted a sketch of a facial reconstruction performed after a woman’s skeletal remains turned up some five years ago, outside Albuquerque, N.M.

Then she started going through the missing persons database and matched the sketch with the photograph of Sonia Lente, a 44-year-old Native American, who was last seen in the company of a man two years earlier, leaving a bar within city limits.

NamUs, which costs a little more than $4 million and is funded by the National Institute of Justice, solves a few problems, said Kevin Lothridge, chief executive officer for the technology center.

Perhaps most importantly, it centralizes into a single national database information that typically has been scattered among different states and jurisdictions. That allowed a cyber sleuth like Karen to make a match in a missing persons case on the other side of the country.

It is also what Lothridge calls “public addressable,” which means members of the public can access the database and conduct searches, much in the same way they do on Google or Craigslist. Historically, only law enforcement agencies had access to crime-solving databases, and with some databases that is still the case, such as those containing fingerprints and DNA.

Anyone who wants to create a profile of a loved one on NamUs can do so, and the information entered can be anything that identifies someone – a family photograph, a picture of a tattoo, the serial number on a breast implant, dental records, prosthetic devices, jewelry or clothing. The better the information, the stronger the strength of the missing person’s profile, he said.

For example, Jennifer Kesse – who was abducted in Orlando in 2006 and hasn’t been seen since — has an exceptionally strong missing person’s profile, with a score of 5, the highest attainable.

On it her father has noted her eye color can change from green to blue, depending on the kind of contact lenses she is wearing, and that she has a tattoo of a four-leaf clover on her left hip at the panty line. Her profile also has her dental records and notes her DNA is available.

A missing person’s profile is not automatically posted; rather, it is flagged. Then one of the program’s seven regional administrators the country can check with the law enforcement agency handling the missing person’s case to make sure the profile is legitimate, Lothridge said. Once that step is taken, the profile goes online.

Once it is online, a family member – or a cyber sleuth like Karen – can start conducting searches on the site. If, for instance, a mother knows her daughter had a tattoo of a clover leaf on the small of her back, she can conduct a query to see if anyone has turned up who had the same type of tattoo.

“No one wants to find them more than a family member,” said Billy Young, the NamUs coordinator.

If the family member or cyber sleuth thinks he or she has a match, she can then call the regional administrator or the appropriate law enforcement agency and suggest they take the next step – take a look at fingerprints or DNA, if they are available, to see if the presumed match can be corroborated, Lothridge said.

NamUs has odontologists throughout the country to compare dental records. If the DNA of a loved one isn’t immediately available, NamUs will work to get it, perhaps off the missing person’s toothbrush, through an arrangement with the University of North Texas. The university sends kits to the law enforcement agency in charge of the missing person’s case, and an investigator or technician tries to get a DNA sample for the database.

Karen got her match through hardcore sleuthing, but this month NamUs started a program that automatically cross-references information from the missing persons database with information in the unidentified remains database.

The hope is that, as time goes on, more and more cases involving missing persons and unidentified remains will be entered into NamUs. In the United States, there are an estimated 100,000 active missing cases, and more than 40,000 cases involving unidentified remains, according to the technology center.

By comparison, there were only 4,951 unidentified persons entered into NamUs as of May, 2009, and only 1,497 missing persons.

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President’s DNA Initiative – Free courses in DNA evidence

I started an online course last night entitled “What Every Law Enforcement Officer Should Know About DNA Evidence”. I found it by mistake but am thrilled to be learning more about the topic. Although, I’m not in law enforcement, it’s pretty straight forward and easy to grasp. I started it last night and finished it within the hour. For more info, visit http://www.dna.gov/ The courses are free and available to law enforcement, family and victim advocates. They also provide booklets and publications like “Identifying Victims Using DNA: A Guide for Families”

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. The agency is committed to exploring crime control and justice issues. An area of focus is “DNA technology” which has increasingly become a vital tool in the criminal justice system. In order to increase and improve the use of this technology, the President announced a 5 year, billion dollar initiative, (President’s DNA Initiative), which promotes “Advancing Justice through DNA Technology”.

The President’s DNA Initiative targets specific goals:

  • To eliminate the current testing backlog of DNA samples
  • Improve DNA laboratories’ testing capacities
  • Research and Development of DNA technologies
  • Training and Assistance for criminal justice professionals
  • Provide access to post conviction DNA testing
  • The use of DNA for missing persons cases and identifying human remains
  • Protect the innocent

The UNT, Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI), with support by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), has become a recognized national center providing scientific and technical support to law enforcement agencies, medical examiners, and crime labs throughout the country.

UNTCHI in collaboration with law enforcement offers families with missing loved ones the opportunity to submit reference samples for DNA testing. The lab is one of only a few facilities that integrates nuclear and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) for analyses. Once DNA profiles are obtained, they are directly entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System plus Mito (CODIS+mito) database.

In addition to testing family and direct reference samples, the DNA lab works in collaboration with the Laboratory of Forensic Anthropology in Denton, Texas to help identify the remains of victims. DNA profiles obtained from remains are also entered into the CODIS+mito database.

Information for Relatives of Missing Persons,
Coroners, Medical Examiners & Law Enforcement Agencies

University of North Texas Center for Human Identification UNTCHI personnel will work with medical examiners, coroners’ offices, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the National Center for Missing Adults, and law enforcement agencies throughout the United States with the submission, collection, and analyses of Missing Persons samples.

A missing person report should be filed with the Law Enforcement Agency having jurisdiction where the individual was last seen or last resided. The Law Enforcement Agency will determine if the missing person meets a “High Risk” criteria. The agency may ask the family to submit personal articles belonging to the missing person (Direct Reference Sample, DRS); in addition, they may need to collect Family Reference Samples (FRS). The collection and submission of FRS can only be collected and submitted by the Law Enforcement Agency. Family reference collection kits (swabs) and the required paperwork are provided by the UNTSCHI. The collection kits and testing are provided free of charge.

After analysis, the profiles will be entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System and uploaded to the FBI’s National Missing Persons DNA Database.

Correspondence is mediated through the Law Enforcement Agency. If a match occurs, the Law Enforcement Agency will notify the family.

Law Enforcement Agencies, Medical Examiners, and Coroners may need to submit Unidentified Human Remains, (UHR). Identifying remains through DNA can be a lengthy process. There may be cases where there is no usable DNA or not enough relatives available for testing; however, our professional staff will pursue every avenue to obtain a profile.

Victim Advocates > What You Should Know About DNA Evidence

What You Should Know:

* What is DNA?
* Evidence Collection
* Contamination and Preservation
* DNA Testing and Interpretation
* Uses of DNA Evidence
* Identifying DNA Evidence
* Suggested Resources

DNA evidence is playing a larger role than ever before in criminal cases throughout the country, both to convict the guilty and to exonerate those wrongly accused or convicted. This increased role places greater importance on the ability of victim service providers to understand the potential significance of DNA evidence in their clients’ cases.

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the building block for the human body; virtually every cell contains DNA. The DNA in people’s blood is the same as the DNA in their saliva, skin tissue, hair, and bone. Importantly, DNA does not change throughout a person’s life.
The Value of DNA Evidence

DNA is a powerful investigative tool because, with the exception of identical twins, no two people have the same DNA. Therefore, DNA evidence collected from a crime scene can be linked to a suspect or can eliminate a suspect from suspicion. During a sexual assault, for example, biological evidence such as hair, skin cells, semen, or blood can be left on the victim’s body or other parts of the crime scene. Properly collected DNA can be compared with known samples to place a suspect at the scene of the crime. In addition, if no suspect exists, a DNA profile from crime scene evidence can be entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) to identify a suspect anywhere in the United States or to link serial crimes to each other.

The effective use of DNA as evidence may also require the collection and analysis of elimination samples to determine the exact source of the DNA. Elimination samples may be taken from anyone who had lawful access to the crime scene and may have left biological material. When investigating a rape case, for example, it may be necessary to obtain an elimination sample from everyone who had consensual intercourse with the victim within 72 hours of the alleged assault to account for all of the DNA found on the victim or at the crime scene. Comparing DNA profiles from the evidence with elimination samples may help clarify the results.

Using CODIS To Solve Crime

CODIS uses two indexes to generate investigative leads in crimes that contain biological evidence. The forensic index contains DNA profiles from biological evidence left at crime scenes, and the offender index contains DNA profiles of individuals convicted of violent crime. Each State in the Nation has a DNA database law that defines which convicted offenders must have their profiles entered into CODIS; some States even require that DNA profiles from all felons be entered into the database. CODIS enables Federal, State, and local forensic crime laboratories to work together—between jurisdictions and across State lines—to solve crimes.

From Understanding DNA Evidence: A Guide for Victim Service Providers, May 2001, Brochure, National Institute of Justice and Office for Victims of Crime



By David Van Norman – Civil Servant.


Including, but not limited to, Coroners and Cops

“The Taxpayer Speech:

“Matthew was, and still may be, a taxpayer. His family are taxpayers. YOU are a taxpayer. They (or you, on their behalf) needn’t go begging, hat in hand, for information. He, they, and you, have already paid for that service! You support, by paying taxes and purchasing goods and services in the community (anywhere), the infrastructure of government, which includes law enforcement organizations. You paid for my training and experience (regardless of where you live) for me to learn what I know, and for the investigators in Whatever County to do what they do. You pay for the gas that propels their cars and the computers on which they type their reports. You, as a taxpayer, citizen, victim, loved-one of a victim, or private advocate acting on behalf of the family, have EVERY RIGHT to expect professionalism, and adherence to the rules of professional conduct. If you don’t get that, someone needs to loose their job!

“Law enforcement, like most organizations, has a political side. A deputy investigator, patrolman or detective will not be concerned with the political aspect of failing to do what needed to be done. They are insulated from above by layers of supervision. A sergeant is higher up the supervisory chain, but only a few have aspirations to rise into management. By the time a police officer is promoted to lieutenant, and certainly by captain or chief, politics is about all there is. The weakest link, believe it or not, is the department chief or Sheriff. A chief is generally an appointed position (serving at the pleasure of the county administration), while the sheriff or coroner is generally elected. Either way, scandal will end their careers (and does, on a daily basis) in a heartbeat. No matter how high-and-mighty I think I am, there is always someone higher, and mightier, than me, who understands that he (or she) is held in place by a fickle public.

“Law enforcement, by its very nature, can be intimidating to deal with. But, the fact is that law enforcement has more to fear from you than you from them. Provided you plan your contacts with them, and don’t expect the moon, you should be able to assist the family.

“I appreciate that it is difficult to communicate effectively with law enforcement or other forensic specialists. There are legitimate reasons that some information cannot be released to the public. No one knows who you are – you may be the murderer. But, if your salutation is professional, and includes a concise statement of who you are, and why you are calling – and if it sounds as though you make these calls on behalf of families 20 times a day, your credibility goes up.

“One of the reasons I use email so much, is that it gives the receiver a sense of solidity – having something in hand (or at least in a computer) that verifies the sender’s veracity. My signature block is chock full of junk, but anyone reading it knows they can check me out – I’m inviting them to! My emails are designed to overwhelm. I intentionally front-load everything. It presents in the minds eye a bulldozer that WILL NOT STOP. I want them to see me coming, take me seriously, and comply with my requests. I want them to know that if they don’t comply, I won’t be ignored. Not everybody gets that message… the first time. That’s another advantage of the email format, I just send the same message with SECOND REQUEST at the end of the subject line, with the original message attached (date-time stamped), and CC it to the receiver’s supervisor. That generally gets the job done.

“My standard advice is that during your legitimate inquiries, if anyone refuses to answer your questions, you should “walk up” the chain of command – at each level asking if it is the policy and practice of the subordinate to ignore inquiries from the grieving families of decedents.

“I recommend that you call the agency, and start your inquiry with an investigator – and hook him (or her). Then tell them that you have constructed an email with information about the missing person that you would like to send to him (or her) for ‘forwarding to the most appropriate authority within your department.'”
I’d like to thank Mr. David Van Norman for allowing me to publish his advice. It is my sincere wish that everyone who reads this post benefits from it, like I did.