Reveal News explores the failures of America’s haphazard attempts to match the identities of the country’s vast numbers of missing persons–80,000 or so on any given day–with unidentified remains that turn up. Details about the missing and unidentified dead are recorded in a growing but voluntary federal database, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, housed in Fort Worth.
Launched in 2007 with help from the Justice Department, NamUs operates similar to a dating site, suggesting compatibility among cases. Medical examiners and coroners upload information about an unidentified dead person and a list of possible matches to missing persons reports. The database, which can be accessed by the public, contains thousands of clues, including locations, dates, physical descriptions, photographs taken post-mortem and more. Yet NamUs’ potential often is wasted. Neglect, indifference and a lack of will by many state and local authorities hinder the identification process. Law enforcement agencies have let solvable cold cases languish, only to have citizens piece together answers on their own.