Much thanks to Larry Ramsdell of Peace4 the Missing for sending the link for this great article ...
When an assistant medical examiner contacted Donna Fontana, the New Jersey State Police forensic anthropologist, she directed the embassy to check an online missing and unidentified persons database known as "NamUs." With information from Fontana and the Medical Examiner's Office, the woman looked through the NamUs database and positively identified her husband's body through photographs and information, including details of his deformed left foot. The grim conclusion to the inquiry at least meant Fontana could remove the case from NamUs, but thousands of others remain in the federal database.
Formally known as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, the U.S. Justice Department-run site allows police and the public to view information about missing people and unidentified bodies across the country. As the state's case manager for NamUs, Fontana works closely with the system, one of newest online tools the State Police and law enforcement across the country use to keep track of these cases.
One of the most important features of the database, Fontana said, is that ordinary Web users can view, sort and even enter information on the site. "We're utilizing the power of the public,'' Fontana said. "They can enter missing persons, they can view information and photographs of unidentified bodies, and that can definitely help and has helped cases where we've had identifications.''
Anyone can visit www.namus.gov to search the files by demographics, physical traits or other information, according to the Web site. Information entered into NamUs by public users will be verified by law enforcement, but those details can go a long way toward helping investigators, Fontana said.
"You're kind of opening up a file drawer of information about unidentified bodies and asking the public to help in trying to locate a missing person,'' she said. A search late last week found that 54 people statewide, including six people from the MyCentralJersey.com coverage area, were listed in the NamUs missing persons database. Medical examiners in Hunterdon, Middlesex and Union counties had registered 20 unidentified bodies at that time. Somerset County had none.
The missing persons and unidentified bodies databases are updated constantly by authorities and medical examiners, Fontana said. Another key feature of the system is its ability to compare details of both types of cases, sometimes helping authorities identify a body.
"The more information you provide, the better chance you have of identifying the individual,'' Fontana said. Some of those same cases are featured on MyCentralJersey.com's Missing Persons photo gallery, which is available to readers MyCentralJersey.com/missing.
Thousands of readers have clicked through the gallery since it was launched in January. More than 16,000 people were reported missing in New Jersey in 2009, although most cases were resolved by year's end. And nationwide, there are some 40,000 cases each year of unidentified human remains, according to the Justice Department. Of those active cases, many are available on sites such as NamUs, the New Jersey State Police Web page, www.state.nj.us/njsp/miss/mpu.html and MyCentralJersey.com.
NamUs was launched in full in 2009 after several years of planning, according to the Justice Department. The concept was born in 2005 at a summit of federal, state and local officials from law enforcement, scientists, victim advocates and other fields.