Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $448,551)
A search of NamUs reveals that Pennsylvania has 324 active unidentified human remains cases and 68.8% of these remains were found in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Medical Examiner’s Office (Philadelphia MEO) is responsible to identify these remains and the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) has the responsibility of investigating associated crimes and providing quality forensic services through the Office of Forensic Science (OFS). In early 2022, the PPD/OFS coordinated with several different offices within the City regarding unidentified remains and missing person cases. While each unit was performing admirably and setting mission focused goals, it was determined that there was a large coordination gap within these City agencies. As a result the Philadelphia Unidentified Human Remains / Long Term Missing Person (UHR/LTMP) group was formed with representatives from the Philadelphia MEO, PPD Homicide Unit, PPD SVU, PPD/OFS and the District Attorney’s Office (DAO). This multidisciplinary group began evaluating the scope of the issue within the City and determined there was an active list of approximately 90 people that are considered “Long Term Missing”. The group also reviewed the active list of unidentified human remains and recognized a gap in the reporting of missing persons. Furthermore, the review of the UHR list determined that there were some items not completed that could be useful for an identification. The intention of this multidisciplinary group is to address three integral components of this issue. First the group will work to address the backlog of UHRs by ensuring all elements of each case have been completed and brought the investigation up to current standards. Secondly, the group will identify gaps in communication, coordination and identification techniques throughout the City processes. Lastly, the group recognizes the value in public outreach to bring attention to missing persons and ensure that reports are made to the PPD. The group has actively pursued private and local funding sources host Philadelphia’s first Missing Person’s Event to identify cases that have never been reported. Reporting these cases could resolve some of the backlogged unidentified human remains cases. The focus of this grant proposal is to provide the Philadelphia UHR/LTMP group with resources for the exhumation and potential identification of approximately 10% of the backlogged unidentified human remains. The overall mission of the group is to make every attempt to change these remains from being identified by a number to being identified by their given family name.