ST. PAUL — Family members whose loved ones are missing are being asked to contact the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) as part of its effort to learn the identities of dozens of sets of unidentified human remains in Minnesota. Many of these people were discovered decades ago when DNA testing was not available.
The remains being tested as part of this effort were found in Minnesota from the 1970s to the 1990s. Oftentimes, when attempts to identify remains were unsuccessful, the remains would be kept at a medical examiner’s office – sometimes for decades. Forensic testing capabilities now available allow BCA scientists to derive DNA from old remains and remains which are in poor condition.
DNA obtained from the remains will be entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System where it can be compared with family member samples from within Minnesota and across the nation.
The BCA is reaching out to people across Minnesota whose family members are missing. BCA Forensic Science Laboratory Director Catherine Knutson says the BCA needs DNA samples from families of missing persons to compare to the DNA obtained from the remains.
“The process takes seconds and is a simple swab of the inside of their cheek. But the information we’ll be able to learn from it could enable us to bring their loved ones back home,” Knutson said.
DNA collected from family members are only used for comparison to the DNA from unidentified remains and are not checked against any state or federal law enforcement databases.
In addition, descriptive information about missing and unidentified individuals (gender, age, race, circumstances if known) will be entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System – a public database containing information about missing and unidentified persons.
A National Institute of Justice grant is covering the cost of this effort, which is expected to take more than a year to complete. The goal is to either identify all of Minnesota’s unidentified remains or to derive DNA profiles which can be entered into the federal database for future comparisons.
“Without the participation of family members, this effort cannot succeed. We need families to come forward – no matter how long ago their loved one went missing.” Knutson said. “We need to give these people back their names and get them back to their families.”
Steps to be Taken by Families with Missing Relatives
• Start by contacting Minnesota Missing & Unidentified Persons Clearinghouse manager Kris Rush email@example.com or 651-793-1118. Be sure to have the missing person’s name and date of birth. You will be guided through the necessary steps, including:
o Confirm that a missing person report is on file with the local law enforcement agency, and that the information was entered into the FBI’s NCIC missing person file.
o Provide a DNA sample (cheek swab) and sign a consent form.
o If available, provide dental records, photos and any items which may contain the missing person’s DNA (toothbrush).
Facts about the BCA’s Unidentified Remains Effort
• Human remains collected from medical examiners offices across Minnesota are being examined as part of this effort.
• At least 100 sets of human remains have been located thus far, but more are believed to exist. The BCA will continue to contact medical examiners offices for additional remains as part of this effort.
• In some cases, specific details regarding how the remains were recovered is unclear.
Facts about Unidentified Remains – the National Picture
• According to National Institute of Justice, 40,000 sets of unidentified remains are held in medical examiners offices across the nation.
• Only about 15% of unidentified remains have been entered into the FBI’s missing person database.
• Without the DNA from the missing person or their family members, these individuals may never be identified.
Facts about Minnesota Missing Persons
• Currently there are 167 Minnesotans who have been missing more than a year. At any given time there are more than 400 missing Minnesotans.
• More than 11,000 people are reported missing in Minnesota each year.
• Public information about missing and unidentified persons is available at www.namus.gov.
About the Minnesota Department Public Safety
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) comprises 11 divisions where 2,100 employees operate programs in the areas of law enforcement, crime victim assistance, traffic safety, alcohol and gambling, emergency communications, fire safety, pipeline safety, driver licensing, vehicle registration and emergency management. DPS activity is anchored by three core principles: education, enforcement and prevention.