Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Missing and Unidentified Persons National Press Club Event
September 12, 2007
Thank you, Cybele. Good afternoon, and welcome.
Today we’re here to demonstrate a promising new tool for solving cases involving missing persons and the unidentified dead. This tool is part of an ongoing effort by the Office of Justice Programs and the Department of Justice to find and identify the missing and to bring long-awaited answers to their families and loved ones.
With me are several of the key players in this effort, as well as allies in the forensic science and victim services communities. They will give you their unique perspectives on the importance of the work we’re doing, and they will show you how the new system will move the criminal justice and forensics communities forward in solving these challenging cases.
The tool you will hear about today was developed as part of the Department’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, which was launched in July. NamUs is spearheaded by OJP’s National Institute of Justice, our research, development, and evaluation component. The goal of NamUs is to provide a mechanism for linking missing persons records to unidentified human remains through a search and matching application. It also will serve as a national repository for information and resources on unidentified remains and missing persons.
The first phase of this initiative is the creation of a national database on unidentified human remains. That phase has now been completed by a working group of national experts led by Dr. Randy Hanzlick. The next step is to populate the database with information provided by medical examiners and coroners across the country. Dr. Hanzlick is with us today to give an overview of the database and explain how professionals can enter information into the system.
This database, and NamUs in general, has the potential to vastly improve our handling of missing persons and unidentified decedent cases. Thousands of people, children and adults, vanish under suspicious circumstances every year. The remains of thousands more sit in coroners’ and medical examiners’ offices, waiting to be identified. This new Internet-based tool will enable investigators and forensics professionals to cross-reference these records and bring answers to families of the missing.
But the key to its success is the participation of medical examiners and coroners. Only by entering cases from their offices into the database will we be able to match those remains with missing persons records. In short, this system is only as good as the information that goes into it.
You will hear in a moment from Dr. Jan Garavaglia about why a tool like this can be so effective in solving these difficult cases. You also will hear from Debbie Culberson, whose daughter disappeared 11 years ago and remains missing because evidence in her case was mishandled. Her story underscores the tremendous need for a system like the one being demonstrated today.
I’d now like to turn things over to David Hagy, the Acting Principal Deputy Director of our National Institute of Justice. David will talk to you more specifically about NamUs and its value to the criminal justice and forensic science communities. David.
Thank you, David.
Our next speaker is one of those rare individuals who has managed to make her field of work interesting and relevant to the public. Dr. Jan Garavaglia [pronunciation] is the Chief Medical Examiner for Orange and Osceola Counties in Florida. She’s also the host of the Discovery Health Channel Show, “Dr. G.: Medical Examiner.”
Dr. Garavaglia is certified by the American Board of Pathology in combined anatomic and clinical pathology, and by the American Board of Pathology in forensic pathology. Before joining the office in Florida, she was a medical examiner at the Bexar [Bear] County Forensic Science Center in San Antonio, and served on the faculty of the University of Texas Health Science Center.
She is a member of the National Association of Medical Examiners and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and she has lectured widely and has been published in medical journals. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Jan Garavaglia.
Thank you, Dr. Garavaglia. We appreciate your very informative and interesting perspective. For those of us not in the forensics field, you’ve helped to wrap our minds around the issues we’re dealing with.
Now, on to our demonstration. Performing the demo is Dr. Randy Hanzlick. Dr. Hanzlick is the Medical Examiner for Fulton County, Georgia. He also is Professor of Forensic Pathology at Emory University School of Medicine. He has worked in the field of death investigation since the early 80s, and has been recognized for his significant contributions to forensic pathology.
Dr. Hanzlick is the prolific author of journal articles, manuals, and a textbook, and was instrumental in developing guidelines for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on sudden infant death, and for our own National Institute of Justice on death scene investigations. Dr. Hanzlick is a past-President of the National Association of Medical Examiners and former Pathology-Biology Section Officer for the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Please welcome Dr. Randy Hanzlick.
Thank you, Dr. Hanzlick. As you can see, solving these difficult cases depends on the ability of professionals to access information about physical characteristics. I hope that medical examiners and coroners across the country will work with us to use the NamUs database to its fullest potential.
Our final speaker today will give us the invaluable perspective of a crime victim. On the night of August 28, 1996, Carrie Culberson disappeared from her home. A year later, a jury convicted her abusive boyfriend, Vincent Doan, of her murder and sentenced him to life in prison without parole. Doan’s half-brother was also convicted of tampering with evidence in helping to dispose of Carrie’s body.
But justice is far from complete in Carrie’s case. In the search for her body, police failed to secure the search area and allowed evidence to be removed. The police chief pleaded no contest to charges of mishandling evidence and was fired from his job. But as a result of his actions, the body of Carrie Culberson remains missing.
Carrie’s mother, Debbie, helped to lead the search for her daughter, and for justice on her behalf. She also speaks to youth, men in prison, and others about the dangers of domestic violence and the pain of losing a loved one. At the top of the Find Carrie Culberson Web site is a quote from Debbie that should serve as a charge to all of us. She says, “By not knowing the truth of what really happened that night, we will be forever tormented.”
Please welcome Debbie Culberson.
Thank you very much, Debbie. We appreciate your sharing your story with us, and are grateful for the work you do on behalf of victims everywhere. We can all see now how critical a system like NamUs is to the families and loved ones of missing persons.
I’d now like to invite the audience to ask our speakers any questions they have or offer any comments, whether about the database you saw demonstrated today, the NamUs system generally, or any other issues related to missing and unidentified persons.
Thank you all for your questions and comments, and for your participation today. I hope that we’ve addressed everything you want and need to know about the database and NamUs. We believe that this system will be a vital asset to medical examiners, coroners, and investigators, and by extension, to families of the missing and the public at large. And we encourage you, not only to enter information into the database, but to spread word of it to your colleagues and peers across the country.
Thanks again to our speakers for their time and for helping us to see why this effort is so important. We appreciate your insights.
This concludes our event. Thank you all again, and have a wonderful day.