Funded by the U.S. Justice Department, it is available, free of charge, to law enforcement and the public, at www.namus.gov.
"This has the potential to truly revolutionize the handling of cases of missing persons and unidentified remains," said Todd Matthews, the Southeast regional director for NamUs. "It is a huge step forward for investigators, and it gives the families and friends of missing persons a chance to become part of the process of finding their loved one."
Victims' families, police agencies, medical examiners, coroners and the general public can search for possible matches between missing persons and unidentified decedents.
To keep ongoing investigations secure, part of NamUs is set aside for law enforcement access only, so investigators can post and share information or details they do not wish made public, Matthews said.
NamUs has two databases: One has information about unidentified bodies, entered from medical examiners and coroners. It can be searched using characteristics such as sex, race, tattoos or other distinct body features, and dental information. The other contains information on missing persons cases.
Law enforcement users will have the ability to automatically cross-reference the two databases, reducing the time it takes an investigator to search them. If a close match is found, the investigator can turn to forensic services to conduct further testing, such as a dental records check or a DNA test.
NamUs only began taking records in January and is still in the growing stages. While the FBI's National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, will have around 100,000 missing persons cases listed as "active" at any given time, NamUs currently has 1,828 such cases, plus cases of 5,329 unidentified human bodies, according to Justice Department spokeswoman Sheila Jerusalem. But 43 states and 225 law enforcement agencies have started participating, and more are expected to enroll as they become aware of the program, she said.
The News Sentinel asked the Justice Department when and if current cases in the NCIC database would be added to the NamUs system, but that information was not provided in time for inclusion in this series.