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Justice Department Demonstrates National Database to Match Unidentified Remains and Missing Persons Information

9/13/2007 From Office of Justice Programs www.ojp.usdoj.gov

New System Will Help Bring Answers to Families of the Missing

WASHINGTON -- Assistant Attorney General Regina B. Schofield of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs (OJP) today joined nationally renowned medical examiners and other prominent speakers in exhibiting a new national database for matching unidentified human remains with records of missing persons.

"Thousands of people, children and adults, vanish under suspicious circumstances every year," said Assistant Attorney General Schofield. "The remains of thousands more sit in coroners' and medical examiners' offices waiting to be identified. This new Internet-based tool will enable investigators, forensics professionals, and the public to cross-reference these records and bring answers to families of the missing."

The database showcased today is the foundation of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) announced by the Justice Department on July 2, 2007. NamUs will address two of the Department's priorities: assisting investigators in solving missing persons cases and helping medical examiners and coroners identify human remains. The NamUs database, which is viewable at http://www.namus.gov, was developed by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), OJP's research, development, and evaluation component. Ultimately, medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement officials, forensic professionals, and the public will be able to use the database to search and match missing persons records and information about unidentified human remains. Today's meeting at the National Press Club began an OJP outreach effort to solicit the participation of medical examiners and coroners across the United States and inform the public about the resources available through the system.

More than 100,000 missing persons are listed in the FBI's National Crime Information Center, a computerized index of criminal justice information from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Almost half of these individuals have had no known contact for over a year. A recent report from OJP's Bureau of Justice Statistics found that, on average, some 4,400 unidentified human bodies are received in medical examiners' and coroners' offices each year and about 1,000 remain unidentified after one year. In establishing a central reporting system for unidentified remains, NamUs enhances the potential of investigators to solve cases by matching those remains with missing persons records.

The creation of NamUs is part of a major effort by the Department of Justice that began shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. The recovery effort, and NIJ's work to assist the New York City Medical Examiner's Office in identifying the victims, underscored an ongoing problem in matching missing persons with human remains. In April 2005, NIJ convened a summit of law enforcement officials, medical examiners, coroners, forensic scientists, policymakers, victim advocates, and families of the missing. As a result of the summit, the Department created a National Missing Persons Task Force, which recommended improved access to information about these cases through a national database. The work of the task force complements the President's DNA Initiative, under which the Department is supporting the use of DNA evidence to identify missing persons. The new NamUs database serves as a repository for information such as height, weight, tattoos, scars, and clothing, all of which, like DNA, can be vital to the identification of remains.

"Solving these difficult cases depends on the ability of professionals to access information about physical characteristics," said Assistant Attorney General Schofield. "I hope that medical examiners and coroners across the country will work with us to use the NamUs database to its fullest potential."

Joining Assistant Attorney General Schofield were David Hagy, Acting Principal Deputy Director of NIJ; Jan C. Garavaglia, M.D., Chief Medical Examiner for Orange and Osceola Counties in Florida and host of the Discovery Health Channel's "Dr. G: Medical Examiner;" Randy Hanzlick, M.D., Medical Examiner for Fulton County, Georgia; and Debbie Culberson, a victim advocate from Blanchester, Ohio and mother of Carrie Culberson, who was murdered 11 years ago and whose body has never been found.

The Office of Justice Programs, headed by Assistant Attorney General Regina B. Schofield, provides federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP has five component bureaus: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; and the Office for Victims of Crime. Additionally, OJP has two program offices: the Community Capacity Development Office, which incorporates the Weed and Seed strategy, and the Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking Office (SMART). More information can be found at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov.