Virginia authorities identified the body of a teenager who went missing 14 years ago in their first success with a new nationwide database that seeks to put names on thousands of dead people who have gone unidentified, sometimes for decades, reports the Washington Post. Prosecutors in Maryland hope to use the same system to close a homicide case that has resulted in a mistrial and a hung jury. The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS) is an online tool aimed at naming the countless John and Jane Does whose remains have been shelved in the offices of medical examiners and police forensic labs.
It matches missing persons cases with the nameless bodies or skeletons. Police, medical examiners, coroners, and family members have access to the database, and they try to take information from the years-old missing persons reports and match them to details from the dead bodies. Kristina Rose of the National Institute of Justice said the potential is extraordinary. “Instead of having this fragmented system where people go to coroners, to medical examiners, to law enforcement, we have everything in a central repository,” she said. “People can participate in identifying their loved ones. They are the ones who are going to work late into the night to go through the case files.” Each year, about 4,400 sets of unidentified human remains turn up in parks, woods, abandoned houses, and other places, About 1,000 are still unknown a year later.