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Unidentified Child Remains: Analysis of Identifications

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2021

The goal of this analysis by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) is to review how remains of deceased children have been successfully identified and to develop data-supported recommendations for law enforcement agencies, medical examiners, and coroners working similar cases.


This report was prepared by the NCMEC’s Forensic Services Unit and the Missing Child and Data Analytics Team. The analysis reviewed 236 identifications that dated from May 2000 to December 2020. A standard set of questions was developed and applied to each case in the analysis to determine the key factors that led to the child’s identification. Four findings are cited as of interest for investigators who work cases of unidentified child remains: 1) Most of the children’s bodies were recovered within the same city or state from which they went missing; 2) Most of the children were deceased within hours or days of going missing; 3) Identifications stemmed primarily from a tip submitted to law enforcement; and 4) when a suspect was identified, the perpetrator was unknown to the child in most cases, unless the child was under the age of 10. Although the results of this analysis identify specific investigative steps and resources that apparently have the most impact in resolving cases of unidentified children, this report cautions that no one technique is ranked above the others. A multifaceted approach that incorporates multiple resources should be used. Extensive tables and figures

Date Published: March 1, 2021