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Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains: The Nation's Silent Mass Disaster

NCJ Number
National Institute of Justice Journal Issue: 256 Dated: 2007 Pages: 2-7
Date Published
January 2007
6 pages

This article describes what the U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is doing to help State and local law enforcement officials identify human remains and solve missing persons cases.


NIJ is using a multifaceted strategy. It is training medical examiners, law enforcement officers, and victims' families on the nature and importance of forensic DNA evidence in the matching of unidentified human remains to a specific missing person. NIJ is also providing free DNA testing of unidentified human remains and family DNA reference samples. In addition, it is encouraging States, through proposed model legislation, to collect DNA samples before unidentified remains are destroyed. The analysis of degraded and old biological samples is being encouraged as well. NIJ is making DNA reference sample collection kits available without charge to any jurisdiction in the country. Efforts are being made to increase State and local law enforcement's use of Federal databases to identify human remains and solve missing-persons cases. An important feature of NIJ's strategy is the Center for Human Identification (CHI), which is located at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. At CHI's laboratory, State and local law enforcement agencies can have nuclear and mitochondrial DNA testing performed on skeletal remains and missing persons' family and direct reference samples. CHI's Laboratory for Forensic Anthropology performs anthropological examinations on unidentified human remains in order to determine manner and cause of death. All testing is free. DNA profiles from missing persons or their families are compared with the DNA profiles of unidentified human remains in the CODIS(mp) database (Combined DNA Index System for Missing Persons). In order to facilitate this process, NIJ has funded CHI's development of two DNA sample collection kits, one for family reference samples and the other for collecting and transporting human remains. 4 notes

Date Published: January 1, 2007