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The Hidden Crisis - Missing and Unidentified People

Very few of us are aware of the virtual armies of people that are listed on the internet by those searching for them or their identities. These virtual armies are missing and unidentified persons and they are only a small representation of the whole. There is so many of them that detectives are crushed under the weight of all the cases. This is an issue that impacts every state, every city, every person. It exists on every day of every year. Yet problems plague the current situation and the public remains ignorant to how it will harm them.
Some may ask, why does this matter so much when the forests and oceans are dying, the greedy are changing our world, food, and animals forever? It matters because it hovers over each one of our lives and the lives of our loved ones. It will happen to some of us tomorrow. When it happens to our loved ones, suddenly we are thrust into another world, a world of absolute desperation and a realization that we've had this problem all along but did not know it was a fight that needed to be fought. It is a fight that could save us losing someone precious to us. A fight that will prevent more victims and will alleviate some of us having to live out our lives never knowing where our loved one went or what happened. Not to mention, becoming the victim ourselves.

Many people spend years searching, unable to cope after a friend or family member vanishes without a trace. The panic is unfathomable and never ending. And what of the people who disappear? They are left to life's worst cruelty and the variety of ways someone can lose their life. It is unimaginable how many people suffer this fate until you spend a year looking through the listings, reading family members pleas for help, and seeing all the stories. Even then the sheer numbers are shocking. Add to that the viciousness of the crimes and one is left wondering how it can be that we are all so ignorant to this when it is raging outside our own front doors.

Families who find themselves in the position of a missing loved one are often let down by police in a variety of ways. Adding to this law enforcement is often extremely under funded for missing, unidentified, homicide, and cold cases. And what of the predators who cause this atrocity in the first place? They are left to live another day within society and find another victim. They are aware of the ignorance that exists and the issues that law enforcement struggle to overcome. These predators admittedly use it in their own favor. We must stop them. Educating ourselves so we are aware of their tactics and what is happening around us will be a big step forward.

The main statistics used for tracking the numbers on missing people come from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). NCIC is used strictly by law enforcement and among other categories it has a missing and unidentified persons database. The point of this system is to bring law enforcement cases together across the country to help close one of the largest holes in the system, the ability of a criminal to operate in different areas without agencies linking the cases together. As of December 31, 2007, there were 6,945 unidentified person records in NCIC. Unidentified persons are people who have died, often by homicidal violence who have no name other then John or Jane Doe.
From that same date in December 2007, there were 105,229 active missing person cases. During 2007, 814,967 missing persons cases were entered into NCIC and 820,212 were cleared from it. However, since there are standards a case needs to meet to be listed in NCIC, not everyone is listed there. For example, teenagers who go missing while in foster care are typically removed from NCIC upon their 18th birthday. This has proven in the past to further complicate identifying remains of murder victims. There is also an issue with people who are not reported missing at all.

One case as an example is Marlaina Reed who had been reported missing since May 2006. She was found in Chicago one winter night in January 2007, stuffed into a box in an alleyway and she had been beaten to death. She had run away from foster care and upon her turning 18 her name was removed from the NCIC database and therefore from other missing child/person listings. Just like that, she was an adult and released from state care. Missing one day and not the next. Her body was found shortly before her name was removed from NCIC but the cases were still not matched. If not for the hard work and extra effort of a the detectives who had her case, she may have never been identified.

Over the years, cases that have gone unsolved pile up and eventually become cold cases. A few areas fund specific cold case investigators. Most of the time detectives with more pressing current cases are assigned a "cold case" to "work on when they can". Sometimes, cases just get closed and are only reopened if someone comes forward with new information. Thanks to the internet, some cases are seeing the light of day by those creating listings. Bringing these cases to the wider internet audience has led to some cases being solved by family members or volunteers.

Everyday, people disappear and unidentified bodies are found. There is no shortage of bungling of cases and even lost remains. While that is disheartening there are also many dedicated people working hard to solve cases. The Seattle P.I. did an excellent article series about all these issues back in 2002. They also compiled many Washington cases and published them into a list. To this day, that list is just as good as the official state internet listing for Washington missing and unidentified cases. You'd think each state would have a site listing these cases, the pertinent info, and a picture of each person. But that isn't the case. Sometimes county police list their cases on their individual sites, sometimes there is a state site, but having a comprehensive listing in any area is still rare. The public can change all of this for the better, with a little effort.

If each state had a good listing of their missing, unidentified, and other cold cases, it would go a long way towards helping solve cases. But as of yet, that has not happened. Some hope can be found in a new national public database called Namus. With funding through the Justice Department, Namus which is a missing person and unidentified database, will be available for any medical examiner or law enforcement official to list their cases. The problem is, many are not listing their cases because they are not even aware Namus exists and there is no requirement to do so. For those who do use Namus, it is not immune to well known database issues which it already is beginning to suffer from. These issues fall on human error, not being complete, and lack of proofreading, yet it is much better then nothing.

Until the public painfully climbs out of ignorance on this issue and creates the political will to do better, problems surrounding missing and the unidentified are bound to continue. We have to ask ourselves if it is tolerable when everyday there are more families who go on to live out their lives in the agony of having a loved one go missing? Is it tolerable to have 60k people and climbing unidentified, many which are preventable? We the public through our willful ignorance allow criminals to continue on killing. We need to make it a main political issue that we want these vicious killers off the streets, we want to talk about how to get reliable databases going, and we want to see to it the funding is provided to investigators who need it.

Unfortunately, volunteer internet groups who publicize missing and unidentified cases often allow low quality work. This leads to many problems of it's own, including investigators getting the same matches given to them repeatedly from well meaning volunteers. Also, volunteers and families who are searching end up relying on small groups of people who run said groups and their politics which don't belong in this very important area. Those groups who put themselves in the position to be relied on should hold themselves to high standards. However, it remains that in the volunteer group listings inaccuracies are the rule rather then the exception. It could be argued these groups hurt the cause when they include information that is not verified or first hand, consistently fail to proof read what they publish, and/or fail to remove from their listings solved cases. Despite this there has been some cases solved due to these groups and the public attention they gain for cases. Which further shows what a well ran professional effort could do.

Missing and unidentified people need a reliable, accurate, updated, and comprehensive national and state by state public internet listing. As Namus and NCIC has already shown, as long as there is many people working on creating listings for a database there are problems of consistency, accuracy, repetitiveness, and even simple spelling mistakes making searches inaccurate. The best listings available are put up by individual professional agencies for their own cases but these are widely separated from each other so difficult to find and search. A plan to create a group of paid professionals from law enforcement, forensic, medical, and dental who's main responsibility is to write and present all cases in an accurate, complete, and consistent manner may be what we are lacking and just what we need.

While this article is meant to educate and bring to light some of the problems we face, it is not meant to take away from the many dedicated people who work hard and take their jobs seriously. It is because of them that we are not in a much worse situation. The dedicated investigators need support and assistance. The question is will you step up to make yourself aware of what is happening around you, take steps to make your life safer, or perhaps call your government officials telling them you support better missing person and cold case funding?

Here is a very few of the Oregon cases -

On April 27th, 2004, Olga Ponomareva was last seen walking away from her mothers home in Clackamas county where she was living. Her mother reported her missing the next day. Olga, who was 21 at the time, had left all her belongings behind. She had no identification on her and very little money. There has been no activity under her name, meaning she hasn't gotten a job, she hasn't renewed her I.D., she has done nothing that any of us need to do to lead a normal life. After 4 years time, we can safely assume Olga is in serious danger or dead. Is she an unidentified Jane Doe somewhere? If so, we haven't found her yet. DNA from her mother provides some hope that through the CODIS DNA database she could be matched to any Jane Doe who's DNA has been submitted there. But there is plenty of Jane Doe's who's DNA isn't there. Olga is 5'1", 115 pounds, has brown hair and brown eyes. Her case can be found along with others that are on the Clackamas county website linked below.
 http://www.clackamas.us/sheriff/coldcases.jsp#1940s

January 27th, 1997, Rebecca Reid was kidnapped from a convenience store where she was working alone in Eugene, Oregon. A customer who had stopped at the store saw Rebecca pushed into the suspect's vehicle. She has not been seen since. There is a sketch of the man and detectives would like to hear from anyone who may recognize him.

October 18th, 1997, Erik Tellez, 4 years old was last seen in Aloha, Oregon. It is believed he was abducted.

On Nov. 27th, 2004, a 40-50 year old man was found. He died of hypothermia in his sleeping bag in Bend, Oregon near Meadow Camp. He was 6' tall with brown hair. After gathering his DNA, fingerprints, and dental pictures, his body was cremated and he still awaits an identification.

February 26th 2003, the skeletal remains of a man 30-50 years old were found in a wooded area near the MAX rail station in Beaverton, Oregon. His leg was broken. The investigators say he was deceased since sometime in 2002. He was estimated to be 6' tall. He was wearing shorts and an Ironman brand watch.

August 24th, 2002, a man doing a survey for the Forest Service came upon a perplexing scene in a remote area five miles south of Big Lake in the Mt. Washington Wilderness area . The surveyor had found a man who probably died of exposure or natural causes in the spring of 2002. The deceased male had a makeshift tent, several camping items, and oddly $6000. in cash. There was no I.D. or anything to point to who the man was. He was 50-60 years old, had red hair, and stood between 5'5" and 5'7" tall.

November 3rd, 1999, a woman was found in a wooded area near Hwy 26, 50 miles west of Portland. It is thought she had been there for at least a year. Her remains were found scattered over a wide area. She had been wearing a belt with a peace symbol buckle. She also had a deformity of her jaw that people would remember. She was between 16-30 years old, 5'2" and thought to have been of slender build.

April 22nd, 1985, a woman was found next to a golf course in Tualatin, Oregon and had been murdered. Next to her, police found a woman who turned out to be a victim of the Green River Killer. Unfortunately, as the years have gone by, the unidentified woman's remains have been lost and the only identifying information we still have is a partial dental record and a sketch that is an estimate based on the skull of how she may have looked. She was believed to be between 17-19 years old and stood between 5'4" and 5'7".

And on and on they go, all the way back to the early 1900's. These are all someone's son, daughter, father, mother, sister, brother. I wish for tomorrow it won't be you or yours.

For more information and specific cases see
 http://www.oregon.gov/OSP/MCC/index.shtml
 http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/missing/
 http://www.waspc.org/mp/missing.php
 http://www.kingcounty.gov/safety/sheriff/Contact/TIPS/Missing.aspx
 http://ag.ca.gov/missing/
 http://www.clackamas.us/sheriff/coldcases.jsp#1940s
 http://www.namus.gov/
 http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/kidnap/kidmiss.htm
 http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/PublicHomeServlet?LanguageCountry=en_US
 http://www.theyaremissed.org/ncma/
 http://www.isp.state.id.us/identification/missing/
 http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/mpch/
 http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/109337_serial20.shtml