Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $500,000)
Unidentified and Missing Persons Digital and Skeletal Remains Repository
Numerous challenges with respect to missing persons cases and unidentified human remains cases are faced by Mississippi’s death investigation system and the families with missing loved ones. Mississippi lacks standardized reporting of missing persons data, which means report data is either inaccurate, insufficient, or absent altogether. Although state statutes outline the process for reporting and investigating deaths affecting the public interest, the implementation of these practices becomes less clear when the remains of a deceased individual are unidentifiable. Historically, there has been a lack of continuity in the submission, retention, and disposition of unidentified human remains cases, leading to a struggle in locating living missing persons, identifying and returning deceased persons to their families, and pursuing criminal justice.
Currently, the Mississippi Forensics Laboratory, Office of State Medical Examiner (MSFL-OSME) has initiated an approach to resolve these issues by spearheading the development of an OSME directed, multi-agency task force whose goal is two-fold: (1) to collect, identify, and repatriate unidentified human remains; and, (2) to increase the resolution rate of missing persons cases. To support the delivery of these goals, the MSFL-OSME is creating a skeletal remains and missing and unidentified persons digital information repository. Such repository will employ traditional and newer DNA technologies to facilitate positive identifications and missing persons reporting and investigations. This project is coupled with a legislative initiative to establish the repository as an MSFL-OSME led state-sanctioned program designed to deliver quality results using our facilities’ analytical and evidentiary services.
The proposed project develops an Unidentified and Missing Persons Digital and Skeletal Remains Repository to be housed at and managed by the MSFL-OSME. Funding is sought for the analyses of unidentified human remains and extraction of biological material from unidentified specimens and family reference samples, Forensic Genetic Genealogy testing (FGG), and for the development and administration of the digital component of the repository. Case flow will follow DOJ protocol in that case data will be entered into NamUs and the state database prior to the development of extractions and upload to CODIS. FGG testing will be utilized pending a lack of probative DNA match. The expected outcome to the MSFL-OSME and state investigative agencies is time and cost savings, and reliable results for resolving missing and unidentified persons cases using the most current technology.