Assisting Families of Missing or Unidentified Persons
Debra Culberson, Duane Bowers  -  2010/5/19
http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ovcproviderforum
 
 
How do we gain cooperation with the families due to the person's life style and not reporting the victim missing for 2 weeks to 8 months later.
 
1.  Kris Rush
 I also encourage people to contact their State Missing Person Clearinghouse. Often they can work with law enforcement to take reports or can direct the families to other resources. The State Clearinghouses serve as liaison between law enforecment and families.
 
2.  Debra
 Family dynamics are different for every family whether they cooperate immediately or eight months later is a choice they make and for their own reasons. Being a mother of a long term missing and also a victim advocate I have worked with many families of missing. They say that because their child is an adult they cant get law enforcement to take a report. That is why it is important that NamUs is accessible by the public. So family members can be proactive and enter the information of their loved one into the national database. NamUs can only publish a case with an active missing person report from local LEmay be important to include with this. Any circumstances related to the disappearance and their experience with filing a missing person report is welcomed to be entered into NamUs for further assistance to take place.
 
3.  Duane
 For people to participate in any activity they have to believe that their participation will have some value. So, we may first have to help them see how participating now will benefit them. This may mean taking time to explain the process and what will come of the information. If the official doesnt have this information, or doesnt have or take the time to explain the benefits, the family sees no reason to comply. Ive worked with many families that have said that if the law enforcement person involved had explained this to them, they would have given more information.Another aspect is not knowing how else the official will use the information Ive provided; is she building a case against me? Will she use this info to create another kind of case (immigration, drugs, child neglect). So the explanation might also need to include reassurance as to what the info will not be used for.My final thought on this is that the official should not spend a great deal of time focusing on what I didnt do (report earlier, given more detail, etc.). Show me how participating now will benefit me, and move forward from here. If I believe youre judging me, Im much less likely to participate.
 
 
How do victim service professionals for law enforcement agencies best help the victims families understand the investigation process?
 
1.  mdietz47
 I understand the investigative process; however, I believe it has two fatal flaws that prevent recovery of the missing. First, the primary police agency cannot communicate effectively with other involved agencies to maximize recovery. The principle focus of investigators is identification, arrest and successful prosecution of the perpetrator. Not the recover of the missing. Certainly the recent cases explicitly demonstrating recovery long after the investigation ground to a dead end.
 
2.  JENNY WIELAND
 In Washington State, the AG, now Governor put a taskforce together on how missing persons and unidentified remains were handled by law enforcement across the state. This came about due to a series of stories the Seattle PI did on how law enforcement especially in rural areas were found wanting. The task force then recommended legislation to be passed regarding missing persons - and also a booklet on-line When Your Loved One is Missing It covers both practical and emotional support. There was a DVD made, and a best practices toolkit sent to each law enforcement agency in WA State.
 
3.  Debra
 Communication. The most important thing is to keep the family informed. And give them a list of resources available in their area. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has many wonderful resources and also Team Hope which is support group for families of missing and abducted.
 
4.  Duane
 I would respond in much the same way to this question as I did in Question 1. Help me understand the process as it applies to me, and how it will benefit me. I also need to feel that Im safe, and I need to know how else this information might be used. If it might be used to build another kind of case against me, I need to know that. Let me know you will answer any question I have about the process. Another thing that can help is if you give me examples of how the process worked for someone else. This helps me to realize that other people have been through this process and benefitted from it.
 
 
I have found when researching missing persons/children that there are many websites country wide. However not all missing person are entered into the national system, Is there any protocol for how missing persons are to be entered or is based on a state by state basis. There should be one mandatory system/protocol that all missing persons have to be entered into so you dont have to search all missing person web sites. If you know of any besides Namus, and the national center please notify me. I also find that many sites are not updated as they should be. It should also be mandatory for dna to be submitted for all missing persons so they can be cross referenced with unidentified persons.
 
1.  Debra
 The participation of all state clearinghouse and Law enforcement agencies is important to help populate NamUs with the information of their missing persons.
 
2.  Duane
 I agree with you on all points. I believe that great effort is being made to those ends. Remember that NamUs was developed in 3 phases, and became fully operational in 2009. Now comes the need to educate folks to utilize it. As with everything else, this takes money. And often, people are not willing to support something that has a limited appeal. Im not justifying, but trying to make the case for each of us to educate as we go. This web-forum is one way of doing that.
 
 
Dear Mrs. Culberson, What type of anthropological and odontological forensic studies does NamUs assist with in terms of identifying human remain cases. Also, if known, how many depositories exist nationwide and do all cater to the needs of all victims of crime?
 
1.  Martha Lamb
 What are the non-profits to which you refer family members and their website addresses?
 
2.  Debra
 NamUs focuses on the biometric means for a identification. NamUs is partnered with the University of North Texas center for human ID to conduct all DNA Family Reference samples. NamUs has a team of board certified Forensic Odontologists (dental analysis) and Anthropologists (human remains analysis) as well as fingerprint experts to assist in the identification process. All of these services are free to the law enforcement agencys using NamUs, as well as the families.
 
 
Mrs. Debra Culberson, What do you attribute the lack of record keeping on unidentified remains by some jurisdiction; some coroners and medical examiners. Some jurisdictions have been keeping records on unidentifed remains since the 1950s, others have just recently started keeping records according to the first survey of the nation's medical examiners & coroners report. Doesn't this pose a huge dilemma for law enforcement officials, task force agencies, families who have spent years searching for missing loved ones, and poses an even bigger problem for the criminal justice system because offenders of these horrendous crimes are left on the streets to possibly re-offend.
 
1.  Debra
 I cannot not speak to specific reasons, but in my research and efforts for data acquisition, I have talked to some law emforcement and they didnt know what to do with the remains and Coroners have had storage issues, lack of protocol and change in office due to being an elected position.
 
 
Mr. Duane Bowers, The partnerships that were created (NIJ, NAME, National Center for Forensic Sciences) with the second component of the NamUs system ensures a high quality and reliable information unidentified decedent database, where individuals can search the database, however, access is limited to different levels of information. Is this due to the impact of privacy laws on public access to missing and unidentified persons information? Please discuss additional reasons why access to the unidentified decedent database would be limited, for reasons other than privacy laws.
 
1.  Duane
 I cannot answer for those agencies, but there are two perspectives to consider. One is that not everyone who has access to this information has the best interest of the family or individual in mind, and may use the information to further exploit them. Ive worked with many families that were deluged by folks trying to get money for information or services based on what they heard through media and other resources. The second perspective is one of prudence on the part of law enforcement who may be investigating the case. Limiting access to certain information insures that anyone who knows the information was somehow directly involved.
 
 
Do we have services assisting African families of missing and unidentified persons especially those whose relatives live in the US? Are there services rendered to families for example from Rwanda's post genocide who lost several family members and now live in the US without knowing the whereabouts of their relatives.Any possible utilization of DNA matches to find their loved ones?
 
1.  Duane
 Any international process would need to involve similar agencies in the foreign country. This is beyond my knowledge base. I am aware that Australia and the UK have programs similar to ours. As a possible resource, many of the immigrationrefugee organizations in this country may be a better source of information. Also the consulates and embassies of those countries may have useful information about these possibilities.
 
 
Do families of missing children need to have their cases identified in statute as cold cases when the report is a year old? Missing children and missing persons cases seem to be "back-burnered" and nothing in the law provides definition or oversight to those cases. In fact some of the cases unfortunately may be cold case homicides. Arizona has a cold case definition on the books.
 
1.  Duane
 I have never come across this as a policy. In fact most famiies do everything possible to keep the case active; public events, media contacts, etc. The more public the case remains, the more pressure there is on law enforcement to keep the case active.
 
 
Does the ability to come to a missing child case result take about the same time as it does for a cold case homicide or felony sexual assault?
 
1.  Duane
 I'm not sure who would have an answer to that question. Perhaps a law enforcement agency would keep those kinds of records.
 
 
For missing children cases over one year old and unresolved, does a mandatory anniversary review date by the local prosecutor need to be established?
 
1.  Debra
 This question should be referred to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children or legislation pertaining to missing Children.
 
2.  Duane
 From the families point of view it would certainly provide them with the sense that the case has not gone cold. I would take your suggestion one step further and be sure that the review involved family members to be sure that all information has recorded as part of the case. In addition, this would allow the family to interact with any new personnel that are working on the case. Of course this will be an issue of resources, time allocation and funding.
 
 
As a detective in the Missing Persons Unit, I feel like I am doing everything for the families but it just doesn't seem like it's enough. The families think we can jump on the computer and send out a locator, and we are able to locate their family members. We are always looking for new ideas, and web sites to assist us in our search in missing persons, and runaway juveniles. Any suggestions??
 
1.  Marcia
 Detective Yes, Child Quest International can assist LE and families of missing. We collaborate with Missing Children State Clearinghouses across the country, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and other reputable missing childrens organizations in search & recovery efforts. We can assist as a liason with the family if that helps decrease their phone calls to you; distribute Critical Reach alerts (similar to LOCATOR) to various law enforcement agencies, shelters, coroners, etc. across the country; search databases and social networking sights; and provide feet on the street assistance in some areas of the U.S. Child Quest is a reputable member of the Association of Missing & Exploited Childrens Organizations (AMECO) and our services are free of charge. If you would like to discuss more specifics offline, please call or email me. Marcia Slacke, Executive Director Child Quest International, 888-818-HOPE, mslacke@childquest.org , website: www.childquest.org
 
2.  Marcia
 Are you working with any nonprofit missing children organizations? Child Quest International is here to support and collaborate with law enforcement, families and other organizations in search and recovery efforts for the missing. We can assist as a liason with the family if that's helpful, and can distribute Critical Reach alerts (similar to LOCATOR) to various law enforcement agencies, shelters, coroners, etc. across the country. Child Quest is a member of the Association of Missing & Exploited Childrens Organizations (AMECO) and our services are free of charge.
 
3.  Cinda Lubich
 Reach out to your state clearinghouse, there are resources available for families as well as law enforcement. Each state may vary as to the resources available, some are located within the state's fusion center which will have great analytical resources available.
 
4.  JENNY WIELAND
 Here is a brochure that can be downloaded and printed for families of missing persons http://www.atg.wa.gov/uploadedFiles/Home/News/Press_Releases/2007/Missing_Persons_Pamphlet.pdf
 
5.  mdietz47
 the statement 'the more publicity the case receives, the more possibility of a lead' presumes the investigators can msintain a contiguous case file. however, many of the 'missing' cases remain open for decades while the perpretator goes on committing more abductions. Where are the 'victim' investigators that focus on recover or resolution for the 'missing' that the police cannot or do not have the resources to or mission. Finding the missing does not solve a crime, finding the prepretator is justice.
 
6.  Cinda Lubich
 The state clearinghouses have resources for families as well as law enforcement. Each state is unique, so resources will vary.
 
7.  Jessica Norton
 These website are helpful www.doenetwork.org www.namus.gov www.ctcoldcases.com
 
8.  Detective
 Can your agancies assist the law enforcement agencies, and those families of missing persons?? and How??
 
9.  Marcia
 Are you working with any nonprofit missing children organizations? We can assist as a liason with the family if that's helpful and can distribute Critical Reach alerts (similar to LOCATOR) to LE, shelters, coroners, etc.
 
10.  Mike Nardolillo
 On long term cases you should take family reference DNA samples to see if there are matches in CODIS to unidentified human remains.
 
11.  Debra
 My feeling is that if you keep the family involved and updated and listen to what the families have to say is important. As family members of missing persons need to feel like there are helping and doing everything they can to assist in the search.
 
12.  JENNY WIELAND
 Detective - do you have a community-based victim advocacy program that provides services to survivors of homicide? Do they also help with missing persons? If not, perhaps it could be suggested they consider providing services to these families. Our agency has clients whose loved one has been missing for over 20 years, and law enforcement has evidence foul play was involved.
 
13.  Duane
 As for helping the family, the more that they can be involved in the process, the more they understand it. Have them help in checking out websites, putting up flyers and posters and keeping the story fresh. As you know, the more publicity the case receives, the more possibility of a lead. By having the family 'share' the responsibility, they also get a sense of what it takes for you to find a missing person.
 
14.  Mike Durham
 I believe that detectives are hindered from getting to a real problem solving alliance with victim families. Instead of doing more, the tone needs to change to doing with. Families are thrown into a situation they never thought that they would be involved, need to go through a learning curve, and then at the same time work on finding their loved ones.
 
15.  Cinda Lubich
 Every state has a missing person clearinghouse. The resources available differ from state to state, but still a good contact for resources of all missing from abducted to runaway.
 
 
Do all states share information about unidentified bodies?
 
1.  Debra
  Well, in a perfect world that is what we would hope for. The NamUs database is the only online system to make this possible. It is web based and accessible from any computer. NIJ is presenting trainings to Law enforcement, Coroners and Medical examiners to encourage the use of the database for that reason.
 
 
How can we push law enforcement in our area to take adult missing person cases more seriously? There are often time delays that don't exist with children's cases and as you know, these are crucial moments lost.
 
1.  Debra
 It is through persistence by the family in most cases. But the more details of everything that has led up to the disappearance that the law enforcement has the better they can determine the criteria for which to file a missing persons report such as critical missing, endangered missing ect. We can create protocol to standardize the taking of a report by adopting the State Model Legislation created by DOJ and the Missing Persons Task Force a few years ago. We can push for this standardized legislation without every state picking it apart.
 
2.  Kris Rush
 Another good resource is the State Clearinghouses. They often have relationships with law enforcement or connections with other state clearinghouses and can help the family navigate the system and serve as a liaison when necessary.
 
3.  Duane
 This is when support organizations such as Project Jason can be very helpful. Not only may they have specific ideas, but the backing of an organization helps give the family a little more 'presence'. Utilizing the press is also a strong presence. The more visibility, the more questions are asked. This adds pressure to the effort that LE is making. However, the very first step is to go up the ranks of the police department asking 'why are you not taking this seriously?' There may be effort going on of which the family is not aware.
 
4.  JENNY WIELAND
 Washington State under the AG, who now is Gov. put a taskforce together, including all branches of law enforcement, forensic anthropologists, medical examiners, and victim service providers. Out of that came legislation impacting how law enforcement responds to reports of missing adults, a toolkit for law enforcement of best practices and a on-line booklet to address both the practical things families can do, but also the emotional reactions. A video was also produced. This came about due to a series of stories by one of the Seattle newspapers on the problems surrounding law enforcement's investigations of missing persons and unidentified remains.
 
5.  Mike Durham
 Creating a legal mandate and working to change law enforcement attitudes are the big hurdles ... especially in cases of finite resources.
 
 
As a point of clarification how do you and OVC distinguish a missing person, an unidentified possible victim and those who those missing who are 'not' deceased?
 
1.  JENNY WIELAND
 Families and Friends of Missing Persons and Violent Crime Victims receives VOCA funding. We serve all crime types except DV and SA as there are organizations who specialize in those specific crime types. Under our VOCA grant, missing persons is listed as a victim. Many advocates have not had experience in working these cases, so we have been offering trainings across WA State. I hope this is helpful
 
2.  Mike Durham
 Does the distribution of definitions and activity on distinguishing a missing person with an unidentified person and those who are not deceased need to be standardized at the federal level of government?
 
3.  Duane
 I cannot speak for OVC as I do not represent them. What you will find is that each jurisdiction defines those topics for themselves, particularly a missing person. When it comes to children the definition is much more specific, particularly if it qualifies for an amber alert. An unidentified person would of course be just that, some one found alive or dead that cannot be identified. When there is no absolute proof of death, a person may be 'pressumed' dead.
 
 
I find that when trying to compare unidentified hispanic or latino persons, that there arent many reported missing. Is that because they fear that reporting a loved one missing who may not be here legally and is found alive, that they could be deported or arrested?
 
1.  Duane
 This is a very good question. Your scenario may well be one answer. But another answer is that there are very few resources in the hispanic community to provide service. This means they have to reach out to an anglo resource that may not provide bi-lingual services. The need to be understood both emotionally and linguistically is paramount. NCMEC and their smaller departments such as Team HOPE make all of their resources available to spanish speaking population, and provide hispanic parents who have been through the experience themselves to help support new callers.
 
 
What steps should be taken once Law Enforcement has done all it can? What do I do next when they haven't been able find someone?
 
1.  Debra
 Please dont give up. The law enforcement will continue the search. LE depts... have cold case teams that will continue to look for new leads . Stay in touch with LE and research non profit organizations which can offer help in many areas.
 
2.  mdietz47
 Should NCMEC provide a referral to a missing person organizations it's off no consequence if that leads right back to the 'primary' police agency? Without access, voluntarily or via FOIA, to the police case file nothing can be done to aid recovery of the missing.
 
3.  Duane
 Again, this is when the small non-profit organizations begin to fill the void. They often assign you with a 'buddy' who has been there, and offer suggestions of how to continue the search yourself. Often friends and even family members begin to pull away at this point as well, so finding these organizations can be a major support. Certainly NCMEC can provide referrals to these organizations if the missing person is a child, and Project Jason can help is the missing person is a child or adult.
 
 
As a victim advocate, what kind of support is needed most by families whose family member may be missing for years? As time passes, that family still needs support, but it's different than the crisis response we provide in the first few days/weeks.
 
1.  Debra
 As you stated it is the continued support that the families needs. There and many non profit organizations that can provide support. I am a member of the Ohio Crisis Response team and have been there to support families in the beginning but for continued support I work with Team Hope which is made up of families of the missing and abducted who know and have experienced all the emotions and hurdles in dealing with this issue. And when you are supported by a Team Hoper and they say I understand it is because they truly do.
 
2.  Duane
 Understand that I'm a mental health person, so my answer will come from that perspective. Support in this situation comes in allowing the family to have a dual sense of future; how life will look next year if they return, how it will look if they don't. Families need to feel that they can talk about their missing loved one in the present and future tense, and not feel pressure from others to always spek in the past tense. Another good support is to stay in touch with the friends of the missing person. This allows the family to recognize by comparison what would interest there loved one at this age, and that they would continue to grow and age. Finally I would suggest, again, helping them find support in one of the small non-profit organizations that have other folks in the same situation as members.
 
 
Some parents hesitate using NamUs because they feel assuming the missing person may be deceased is like giving up. Any suggestions?
 
1.  Debra
 The not knowing of where and what has happened to your loved one is the hardest thing to deal with. Because the not knowing keeps us in the continuum of grief. The ability to say good bye and know where your loved one is is the normal and beginning process of healing. NamUs is a tool to help aide in this process. Maybe not the answer we want but the knowing has to be a lot better than the not knowing NamUs is my hope for finding my daughter Carrie and peace.
 
2.  Duane
 Good point. But if this is the case, it speaks to a deeper issue that may need some guidance or counseling from a spiritual leader, therapist, or peer having been in the same situation. The question becomes 'if your loved one is deceased, would you rather not know about it'? This then becomes an issue of avoiding reality, and indicates some deeper stuff. Presenting NamUs as a means to prove that your loved one might still be alive is an alternative.
 
 
Ms. Culbertson - some law enforcement agencies have victim advocates respond with them to calls of missing persons. Do you think this is helpful for the family?
 
1.  Debra
 Victim Advocates are very important to law enforcement as well as the families. The advocate can free up the LE to focus on the details and questioning and the advocate can assist the families in finding resources available to them in their area and can be a contact person for support and information.
 
 
How can we help families that are moving into the "cold case" status? For instance, maybe a year or so has passed and nothing new has been discovered. Police are ready to move on. Media is not interested. Parents fear the child may never be found.
 
1.  Debra
 Families need to maintain a relationship with the law enforcement and the media. There will be anniversaries of birthdays; date of disappearance, a case in the media that is similar to your missing person that could generate new interest. The media can be helpful in keeping the missing person in the publics eye and keep the pressure on law enforcement to remain vigilante in their search.
 
2.  Duane
 I will refer you to our answers to a similar question posed by Tommy.
 
3.  Mike Durham
 Moving into a cold case status needs special attention. A complete case review by someone looking for errors, issues overlooked, failed communication connections, evidence review, other similar cases, etc. If possible this needs to be done by a person at arms length to the case. The parents need to know that this review is being done and to contribute their issues for review. Then everyone needs to meet not to hear about the police determination but rather to hear and plan for the next steps. A cold case investigation differs to an active case investigation.
 
 
Do you have any suggestions on how to provide assistance to parents of a (long term) missing child case, when one parent wants to move on and the other wants to keep searching?
 
1.  Debra
 LE can maintain the relationship with the parent who wants to continue the search and everyone (including the other parent )respect the wishes and feelings of the parent who is ready to move on. This is a situation no parent wants to find themselves in and each will have their own way of dealing with it. Respect it.
 
2.  mdietz47
 Debra, this is exactly my position. The missing are not necessarily deceased they are 'gone in a minute'. As the recovery cases of the past few years demonstrate, children who are taken do not cease to exist they age-out and become 'lost' people with out a past. Thousands are out there waiting to be found. Their past has been destroyed by the trauma of their being taken BUT no one is looking for them. OVC needs a 'missing' champion to carry this message. Just because they can't be found doesn't mean they're gone just lost.
 
3.  Duane
 This does take good negotiating skills on the part of the parents. I strongly suggest outside intervention; counseling from someone who is not going to ask either of them to change their position, but will help them to co-exist. It starts with each parent being willing to honor (but not agree with) the other position, and finding points in common (their love for the child, their memories, etc.).
 
4.  Mike Durham
 I would advise that a case lawful representative be used in this instance. The lawful representative can then work with the parents and the police on behalf of one or both of the parents.
 
 
It says on the NamUs website that they offer free DNA testing and other forensic services. What exactly does that refer to? Wouldn't that type of testing be handled by the local law enforcement agency?
 
1.  Debra
 The local law enforcement would take the DNA family reference sample and if available a DNA sample (hairbrush, toothbrush ect,) of the missing person and send this to the University of North Texas to do the testing free of charge which would not cause any undo expense on the LE dept. that sent this sample
 
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