Pennsylvania should partner with NamUs

Aug 8, 2018 Pennsylvania should quickly move to join a growing list of states to require missing persons to be entered into a national database, a decision that could go a long way toward offering families some much-needed closure. Developed in 2005 by the U.S. Department of Justice to assist in missing persons cases and unidentified human remains, NamUs launched its Unidentified Persons (UP) database in 2007, “providing medical examiners and coroners with a tool to store and share case information with criminal justice professionals and family members of missing persons across the country,” according to the NamUs website. In 2008, NamUs Missing Persons (MP) database was launched, and the following year the databases were connected.

As of Monday, NamUs has helped to resolve 15,519 missing persons cases and another 3,416 unidentified persons case.

The more states that connect with the database, the more comprehensive it becomes and the broader the scope of discovery becomes as well.

Considering that less than 20 percent of missing persons cases in Pennsylvania — 389 of 2,115 — are entered into the system, it is easy to wonder if required data entry would lead to more solved cases.

Right now, four Valley cases are entered into the system: Daniel Hollick, 25, of Shamokin, who went missing in May; Michael Jeffreys, 19, of Northumberland County, who went missing in 2005, and Barbara Miller, who was entered into NamUs recently, after going missing in 1989. In Union County, Corey Edkin, 2, of New Columbia, went missing in 1986. His name was entered into the list in June.

“The more states enter cases into NamUs the better chance for resolution,” NamUs regional director, Amy Dobbs said. “The sooner we can give a name back to a victim the better chance that case has at being investigated and hopefully a suspect identified.”

“Every little bit of help in these types of cases helps,” Snyder County DA Mike Piecuch said. “If there is a way to help solve cold cases and get families peace of mind, that alone is a huge thing. I think the fact they help get DNA tests completed is also very valuable to law enforcement.”

The tool is valuable not only for law enforcement officials, but also for coroners and medical examiners who have outstanding cases. Additionally, as state Rep. Fred Keller said, it could offer help in the sex trafficking trade as well.

“I believe that the use of NamUs could be tremendously beneficial to law enforcement. The widespread use of a National Missing Persons Database would be extremely useful in resolving ‘cold cases’ and even more effective in preventing cases from ever becoming ‘cold,’” Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Matulewicz said. “Since criminals are not concerned with municipal, county, or state boarder lines, law enforcement agencies must continually evolve by becoming innovative in collaborative efforts.”

NamUs pays for the DNA testing, so there would be no cost to local law enforcement officials. It is funded through the Department of Justice. The cost effectiveness and the potential to close longstanding cases should make this an easy decision for state lawmakers to get behind.