U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

BJA 23 Missing and Unidentified Human Remains (MUHR) Program - Arizona Department of Public Safety Crime Lab

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Awardee County
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $848,227)

The desert of Southern Arizona is an inhospitable place for migrant border crossers from Mexico. Many fall victim to the elements and die in the wilderness, and their unidentified human remains (UHRs) are recovered and retained by Arizona medical examiners’ offices. No crime against a person has necessarily been committed, so the resources that are available for identification via DNA analysis are not available as they would be for crimes investigated by law enforcement. While the majority of UHRs discovered in Arizona are the result of migrants crossing the Arizona-Mexico border, others are the results of crimes and require criminal investigation. 

This proposal is for Purpose Area 1: Statewide Agencies, and the request is for funding to increase DNA testing capacity for Arizona Missing Persons (MP), Unidentified Human Remains (UHR), and Family Reference Samples (FRS) samples by providing funding for AZDPS to hire two DNA forensic scientists for the three-year grant period and purchase equipment for the extraction of bone samples, for a total of $697,186. The goal of the project would be to increase the number of DNA samples analyzed by AZDPS with a measurable objective of 144 UHR samples and 120 MP and FRS standard samples analyzed per year.  

The Arizona DPS Crime Laboratory (AZDPS) provides forensic services to law enforcement agencies in Arizona but is not required to provide analysis for non-criminal investigations. AZDPS routinely performs DNA analysis on UHRs if they are connected to a crime as determined by law enforcement, and the Laboratory has also periodically performed work on non-criminal UHRs in a limited capacity.  

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) lists 2,028 unidentified persons in Arizona, with Pima County in southern Arizona as the location for 1,228 of the cases. Pima County is the Arizona county with the longest Mexico borderline, and this border is a popular crossing location for migrants.  Maricopa County has the next largest number of remains with 281, and, while it is further from the border, it is a major desert corridor for migrants. These two counties account for almost 75% of the UHRs in the state.  

There are limited resources available to Arizona medical examiners for the DNA analysis of missing persons, unidentified remains and family relative samples. Increasing DNA analysis capacity by funding positions is an efficient and effective way for AZDPS to provide a reliable forensic resource for Arizona medical examiners.

Date Created: September 8, 2023