In early February, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law legislation that will help law enforcement solve missing persons cases, keep such cases from going cold and provide hope to families searching for their loved ones.
House Bill 930, authored by State Representative Lynda Shlegel Culver, requires state police to input DNA samples into a forensics database called the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).
According to the NamUs website, the database was launched in 2007 by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) after a task force concluded that there needed to be a better way for investigators to access and analyze information in missing or unidentified persons cases.
The database provides case information, forensic examination services, investigation support, training and outreach, and missing persons statistics from all over the country.
“What NamUs does is it brings people, law enforcement, technology and forensic science all together at one location. It empowers families who otherwise may not have felt empowered previously to input data, input personal information about their loved one who is missing,” Culver told WNEP 16.
State Senator Lisa Baker supported the legislation, saying that more needed to be done to give hope to the families looking for their loved ones.
“It’s a multifaceted approach: We have good policy about giving the tools law enforcement needs to help find these individuals, but also that sense to the family that we’re not giving up. We are going to be there step by step with them until we bring them home,” Baker said.
The law requires state police to add data to NamUs, and encourages local law enforcement agencies to do the same.
Pittston Police Chief Kyle Shumosic said the database helps prevent cases from going cold by offering extra resources and support for law enforcement.
“Everybody has this preconceived notion that CSI and NCIS have labs in their basements and teams of detectives moving. A lot of times, it’s one or two guys that are going around and doing interviews, but they’re also working on other cases as well,” Shumosic said.
According to NamUs, nearly 600,000 people go missing every year, and tens of thousands of individuals go missing for longer than a year. These cases are referred to as “cold cases.”
With this law, lawmakers and families hope the cases will remain active and never go cold.
Norma Fritz-Yatsko, whose son went missing nearly seven years ago, entered her DNA into the database in the hope it would help find her son.
“If their loved one is found, and they take DNA from that body, it will match up on the profile where the family member’s DNA is entered,” she explained.
“He’s my son; I mean, who else is going to look for him? Nobody else is going to look for him.”
Pennsylvania is now one of 11 states that has a law for submitting data from missing persons cases to NamUs.