Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $496,045)
The purpose of this project is to reduce the number of unidentified persons in Riverside County, via DNA identification through CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), NAMUS (National Missing and Unidentified Person System), and Forensic Genealogy, while also repatriating remains that are currently in the custody of the Riverside County Sheriff Coroner’s Bureau.
Riverside County is situated in Southern California, surrounded by 4 counties (San Diego, San Bernardino, Orange, and Imperial) and the state of Arizona. Riverside County covers over 7,300 square miles of diverse terrain and population dense metropolitan areas. Riverside County is the 4th most populous county in the state of California with 2022 population estimates well over 2.5 million. The unavoidable consequence of continued population growth is an increase in deaths, which must be investigated by the Riverside County Coroner.
Riverside County Coroner operates two forensic centers, one in the city of Perris and one in the city of Indio, to accommodate the expansive geographical area and heavy caseload of the county. Death investigations have increased each year, with the County Coroner investigating over 16,000 deaths in 2021. In Riverside County, approximately 4% or 700 people are unidentified at the time of the death investigation, due to the condition of the remains or lack of means of identification. The volume of unidentified cases has required review of current practices and efforts to implement more advanced, efficient methods to reduce backlog and improve the quality of timely forensic services.
Riverside County Coroner is currently dependent on state DOJ laboratories to provide DNA comparisons from decedents and familial swabs, but unidentified decedents only get identified if a familial reference sample is available. To obtain investigative leads for decedents, the use of forensic genealogy has been instrumental in the identification of long-term unidentified decedents on a national level. Utilizing grant funds, Riverside County Coroner would be able to exhume long term unidentified decedents to obtain DNA samples for the purposes of adding the DNA to CODIS and to also obtain investigative leads through forensic genealogy to provide closure to families. Remains of Native Americans and those who have been deemed “war trophies” will be repatriated to their rightful most likely decedent or lawful disposition.