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Improving Capabilities to Resolve Missing, Unidentified, and Unclaimed Cases in the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's District

Award Information

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

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $500,000)

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office (TCME) is mandated by the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Chapter 49.25, to investigate the death and pursue identification of unidentified persons who die within the TCME District, which includes Tarrant, Denton, Johnson, and Parker Counties. The TCME also provides services to Lubbock County through a contractual arrangement. As a regional medical examiner facility, the TCME serves a population of over 3.7 million.

    The TCME’s Human Identification Department (HID) manages the scientific identification of all unidentified decedents within the TCME jurisdiction. The HID is led by a board-certified forensic anthropologist with a staff of two fingerprint examiners and another PhD level forensic anthropologist. This project focuses on cases that remain unidentified after all standard identification modalities have been exhausted (i.e., fingerprints, odontology, medical imaging, DNA). NamUs currently reflects 74 long-term unidentified individuals within the TCME’s jurisdiction and 2 in Lubbock County. TCME also accepts jurisdiction on approximately 90 cases per year that remain unclaimed, none of which are posted to the unclaimed portion of NamUs.

    There are four primary objectives for the project: evaluate and verify the current list of unidentified cases associated with the TCME; initiate or update NamUs, NCIC, NCMEC, and ViCAP entries with all available data and appropriate images, including facial reconstructions; liaise with local law enforcement and establish better public outreach mechanisms for unidentified and unclaimed cases; and utilize forensic genetic genealogy (FGG) testing to provide investigatory leads.

    To tackle these objectives, funds are requested for three areas: hiring a fulltime Identification Investigator (IDI), FGG testing, and 3D scanning of skulls for facial reconstruction. The newly established IDI will become the point-person for missing, long-term unidentified, and unclaimed cases. They will interface with families, government agencies, community organizations, and other external partners. They will ensure the TCME has accurate and up-to-date missing persons information available in NamUs, NCIC, NCMEC, and ViCAP. If funded, 10 cases are identified for immediate FGG testing and 3D scanning and reconstruction, with additional cases to be prioritized through the execution of the project.

    The proposal requests $495,629.00 to fund this project. The performance of the project is measured through the complete accounting for all unidentified decedents for which records are available, the number of complete case entries for unidentified and unclaimed decedents into national databases, the number of decedents identified and claimed, the development of public outreach, and the success the newly established IDI position.

Date Created: September 8, 2023