OVC Provider Forum Transcript

Addressing Cases With Missing or Unidentified Victims
Laurie Caldwell, Bob Lowery  -  2007/5/23
What are your feelings regarding mandatory DNA testing when a crash involves more than one victim? And how would you advise one to get others involved in the possibility of legislation to mandate this? Hence: Karp vs E.W.Sparrow Hospital Lansing, MI
1.  b lowery
 In terms of mass casualities, it may be advisable to collect DNA samples. I understand demort teams already have protocols in place for such collections. But, it is important not to minimize the usefulness of fingerprints, dental records, scars, marks, tattoos, or other physical abnormalities for identificiation purposes. In the event of not other means of identifying the persons, dna is obviously required. Mandatory, legislative requirements can be useful. I would extend the legislative requirement to all unidentified persons cases.
What are the most helpful ways to offer victim support to the family of a missing person over the long term (months, years)?
1.  b lowery
 peer support groups are probably the most helpful. Families who have experienced this tragedy can be useful in helping a family cope for day-to-day.
2.  laurie caldwell
 Identifying a support resource for the family as months and years pass will be most helpful. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (www.ncmec.org) is a great resource for this. If the family is open to getting involved in Victim Rights and legislation it can be a way to direct grief in a positive manner. Telephone calls from the investigating agency (i.e. victim advocate)as time passes will assure the family that the case has not been forgotten.
What is the best way to transition victim services if you've been treating a case as a runaway and now the child is considered abducted/missing?
1.  laurie caldwell
 A family needs support whether the child is a runaway or abducted. A runaway can easily turn into a tragic event so lessening services due to the label runaway can be a injust service to families. A support service for families of each type of missing child is essential. SC had a scenerio just as the question described in 2006. Once the investigation revealed that the child had been abducted, obviously support services increased and continued once the child was located (alive, thankfully). The family had many questions, misdirected anger, and needed guidance through the judicial system. Buffering from the media will be a service needed by the family of an abducted victim as compared to a runaway. Victim Advocate Barbara Jones with the Kershaw County Sheriff's Office (803) 425-1512 can give you first hand knowledge on a situation as described in the question.
2.  b lowery
 without delay you need to involve victim advocates with experience in child abduction to work with the fmaily and possibly have a liasion role with law enforcement. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is an excellence resource and has printed material for families to help families in these cases. These cases often cause a very high energy appearance by the investigating agency and it is most helpful for a family to understand how the resposne is being coordinated.
How has the Justice for All Act impacted cases with unidentified victims?
How can victim advocates assist/support/comfort a family that has just learned that a loved one they once believed to be missing has been confirmed a homicide victim?
1.  b lowery
 they can assist in providing resources for counseling and psychological help. they may also be helpful in communicating with the family on the nature of the investigation, why certain requests are being made of the family and basically what they can expect from law enforcement. they may also be helpful in connecting them with peer counseling groups.
2.  laurie caldwell
 Family will have many questions. Be there to answer them when possible. Avoid leaving them in the dark. Be prepared for the family to have misdirected anger such as towards law enforcement. Respect their feelings on this. Do not over crowd the family and respect their privacy, but help in any manner they will accept. Have a support resource available when the family is open to the assistance.
Do you know how many persons are missing/unidentified in the United States?
1.  Libba Phillips
 Our agency agrees with Bob on the disparty of 'reported' unidentified persons who may not be in the system because he/she was not reported appropriately. Our work focuses on the 'kids off the grid', children and adults who are not reported as missing, many of whom may be lost among the homeless. It is impossible to determine how many unreported missing their may be, but based on our research, we think the numbers could be over 1 million. The National Runaway Switchboard also concurs there are between 1-2 million youth on the streets of America. The families and agencies who come to us for help do substantiate that we are dealing with an undefined number of 'reported' missing and 'unreported' missing which in turn leads to a disparity in unidentified deceased persons and unidentified and unaccounted for victims of crime.
2.  b lowery
 Any given day there are more than 100,000 missing person cases in the NCIC database. Likewise, an estimated 6,000 are in the NCIC unidentified persons database. Most troubling is the estimates of 40,000 to 50,000 cases of unidentified persons in the U.S. most of whom are obvioulsy not in the system.
How might the abduction of a child affect a sibling versus a parent?
1.  laurie caldwell
 If the sibling is young, he/she will not be able to comprehend what is happening. Provide them with age appropriate support. Try to answer their questions. A younger child may feel scared and insecure for their own safety. Assure them of their safety. Allow them to continue being a child. Their world needs to continue as normal as possible unlike their parents. An older sibling may have feelings of anger and possibly responsibility for the abduction like a parent. A lot of what if questions may come out. Like a parent, they will want to help in locating the missing child.
What are some unique challenges for cases involving high risk missing persons (i.e., a person requiring medical attention or who is mentally disabled)?
1.  laurie caldwell
 The time element is the most pressing challenge. Communication can also be a challenge with a mentally disabled person or even an elderly person.
2.  b lowery
 Obviously speed is of the essence. These are very time sensitive cases where time is our enemy. As time goes on they may become very complex because their personal survival skills may be limited. It is imperative to utilize local and regional media for broadcasts of descriptions, photos, vehicle descriptions, etc. Law enforcement officers must be especially concerned about these cases, especially when they are located and how to communicate and handle them emotionally.
Do you know of any States that provide compensation for cases in which a person is missing?
1.  Gayle Hirahara
 California has a Reward Program, the state offers to match a local reward up to $500 for information leading to the location of a missing child listed in the Missing Persons System, compiled by the Departme of Justice. For additional details regarding eligibility, contact the CA Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, call 1-800.955.0045.
2.  b lowery
 we are not aware of any, but that does not mean there isn't a state that provides for this type of compensation.
Do you know of any organizations that provide training on this topic and, in particular, on the topic of DNA and missing persons?
1.  Gayle Hirahara
 For law enforcement agencies in California, the Missing Person DNA Program provides training on the DNA collection for missing and unidentified persons.
2.  b lowery
 University of North Texas, Dr. ARt Eisenberg the head of the dna research lab is one, others are the FBI, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at their Jimmy Ryce Law Enforcement Training Center, are a few that come to mind.
3.  laurie caldwell
 The FBI.
What are some of the challenges in dealing with cases where victims are reported missing in a foreign country?
1.  b lowery
 obviously language barriers are an obstacle. Understanding the different procedures use by the law enforcement agency which may vary from ones used in the u.s. Cultural differences may also play a big role, including religion. Risk assessments may also be more complicated due to the lack of background information that may be available.
I've seen DNA and child ID kits referenced on a couple of different web sites. Are these types of kits helpful to investigations? Is one type of kit more effective than the other?
1.  Len Edwards
 We find the majority of parents/guardians do not have a current photograph of the child, let alone fingerprints/dna
2.  laurie caldwell
 The Child ID kits offered through public service organizations and DNA samples are only helpful to an investigation when identifying a child not locating a child. Having the information readily available may just speed up the process of identifying the child. DNA can be obtained from both parents if a Child ID Kit is not available.
What part can court persons play in assisting law enforcement in locating unidentified missing children?
1.  laurie caldwell
 Prosecutors can provide clarification on laws concerning search warrants, detaining individuals of interest,and obtaining court orders when applicable.
The NIJ published in 1/07 that MPs and Un-Id Remains are "The Nation's Silent Mass Disaster". Local LE agencies are not even looking for adult MPs where there's no evidence of foul play. What is being done to date to resolve the problem?
1.  Bob Poulnot
 I am a private investigator and have been looking for a 27 yo MP since 1106. A major LE agency in Atlanta is assigned the case, but they refuse to utilize the 3 databases you mentioned because there is no evidence of foul play. I found the MP's car abandoned 50 miles from Atlanta. So, if the MP's remains are found un-id in another state the case will remian unsolved. I believe this is a federal problem, since states are not united on protocol.
2.  b lowery
 here lies the problem. with nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. the efforts are fragmented. Keep in mind over half of these agencies have less than 10 officers, so resources are often scarce. To effectively deal with MP's and UnId, it is imperative to have a consistent response in these cases. All too often cases of missing persons have been left in file drawers with no one lookikng for the person. Likewise, cases of UnInd meet a similar fate. The resources are available but in some case under utilized. For example currently theer are three databases for these cases, 1) the NCIC Missing Person/Unidentified Person database which has the ability to maintain critical facts about the individual, including scars, marks, tattos, physical abnormalities, dental records, and other useful information helpful to locate or identify the person 2) the IAFIS system for fingerprint identification and 3) CODIS for dna. In terms of unidentified persons, if these databases are utilized to their fullest potential many cases would be easily solved as simple matches between the systems would solve the case. But inconsistent, improper and under utilization of these systems have kept them from reaching the fullest potential. The International Homicide Investigators Assn. working on a grant with the OVC developed a manual for handling of these cases which is most useful. A group of experts from law enforcement, FBI, NCMEC, National Distrcit Atty's assn, the Coroners and Medical EXAMNERERS assn's all assisted in putting this together.
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