Forensic Science

Missing Persons Resource Center

Missing Persons Resource Center

For many years, Mexican nationals trying to find work in the US died in their efforts to illegally cross the border. Human remains found in the Southern US states are likely to be the family member never heard from again by their relatives in Mexico. Statistics reported by the Washington Office of Latin American cited 463 migrant deaths in the US in 2012. In Arizona alone, from October 2012 to August 2013, 171 migrant deaths were reported. In a report from the National Criminal Justice Resource Center (Report 219533) it states that between 1980 and 2004, approximately 10,300 unidentified remains were reported and over three quarters of this number were reported by 5 states, Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and Texas. Reports such as these only begins to the define the problem faced by coroners and offices in the US who are mandated to identify bodies found in their jurisdictions and the grief carried by Mexican families who don’t know the fate of their loved one.

In the United States, many public and private organizations are doing what they can to address the problem of identifying the thousands of human remains found, but these efforts are not well coordinated. However, through informational data base systems such as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or NamUs and the FBI’s Combined DNA Index there is some “sharing” of information that may assist in the identification effort. Unfortunately, without better coordination between these various efforts, the data bases as they exist now will not provide what is needed to help identify the missing.

In the early 1990’s state CODIS laboratories in the US began reporting “matches” of crime scene profiles to DNA profiles in their offender data bases. Soon after the National DNA Data Base become operational in 1998, state to state “matches” were reported and the number of matches increased steadily as the size of the national data base grew. The success of today’s National DNA Index System (NDIS) is due to the diligence of each CODIS state to collect and analyze all offender samples allowed under their state’s laws, to analyze as many crime scene samples as possible, and upload these profiles to NDIS. To fully address the backlog of unidentified human remains cases in the US and to assist US families finding answers about their missing family member, the CODIS missing persons index must include DNA profiles from Mexican families and human remains recovered in Mexico.

In October of 2013, CWAG was awarded a grant from the National Institute of Justice to employ DNA to help identify the missing. This grant funds the collection, analysis, and upload into CODIS, DNA profiles obtained from samples of families in Mexico reporting their relative missing in the US. Additionally, this grant also funds the analysis and upload into CODIS, DNA profiles of human remains found in Mexico and funds the entry of case information into NamUs. Although the number of samples funded by this grant is relatively small, it follows the principle of sharing information that may assist our neighbors in Mexico as well as our own citizens.

Through public and private sector partnerships, the CWAG Alliance Partnership seeks to maximize exposure to the vast Missing Persons resources available to law enforcement and families of the missing.

Missing Persons Resource Partners

As an organization comprised of chief law enforcement officers, CWAG is passionate about forming partnerships that will further multi-faceted goals such as this. Partners in the CWAG effort to identify the missing using DNA technology share this same vision and CWAG is proud to be working alongside such organizations in the grand undertaking of identifying the missing.

Bode Technology

Bode Technology is a leader in providing forensic DNA analysis to governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and disaster management organizations throughout the United States and around the world. Operating one of the most internationally respected private DNA laboratories, Bode’s forensic DNA experts have assisted in identifying victims of war, terrorism, airline crashes, crime, civil conflicts, and natural disasters, including the attack on the World Trade Center, Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, the war in Bosnia, and the Latin American Initiative for the Identification of the Disappeared. Through these efforts, Bode has optimized protocols for the successful extraction and amplification of DNA from highly degraded and environmentally challenged samples. Our experience in working with more than 30,000 skeletal samples from more than a dozen nations and hundreds of burial sights has led to the development and improvement of multiple DNA extraction, purification, and amplification protocols which can be used to obtain superior results. Bode is currently assisting several nations in large-scale human identification and missing persons projects including the Conference of Western Attorneys General’s “Combining Efforts to Identify the Missing: A United States/Mexico Project” funded by the National Institute of Justice. Bode holds ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation from ASCLD/LAB-International and ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board/FQS.

California Department of Justice

The Attorney General represents the People of California in civil and criminal matters before trial courts, appellate courts and the supreme courts of California and the United States. The Attorney General also serves as legal counsel to state officers and, with few exceptions, to state agencies, boards and commissions. Exceptions to the centralized legal work done on behalf of the state are listed in Section 11041 of the Government Code.

The Bureau of Forensic Services (BFS) is the scientific arm of the Attorney General’s Office whose mission is to assist the criminal justice system. Forensic scientists collect, analyze, and compare physical evidence from crime scenes or persons. They also provide criminalistics, blood alcohol, and related forensic science information services to state and local law enforcement agencies, district attorneys, and the courts.


DNA-PROKIDS is an international project aimed at fighting against traffic in human beings using genetic identification of victims and their families, especially children.

Mission of DNA-PROKIDS is to “identify the victims and return them to their families (reunification); to hamper traffic in human beings thanks to identification of victims, and to gather information on the origins, the routes and the means of this crime (intelligence), key elements for the work of police forces and judicial systems.”

Federal Bureau of Investigation/CODIS

“CODIS is the acronym for the “Combined DNA Index System” and is the generic term used to describe the FBI’s program of support for criminal justice DNA databases as well as the software used to run these databases. The National DNA Index System or NDIS is considered one part of CODIS, the national level, containing the DNA profiles contributed by federal, state, and local participating forensic laboratories.”

International Committee of the Red Cross

“The ICRC, established in 1863, works worldwide to provide humanitarian help of people affected by conflict and armed violence ant to promote the laws that protect victims of war. An independent and neutral organization, its mandate stems essentially from the Geneva Convents of 1949. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, it employs some 12,000 people in 80 countries; it is financed mainly by voluntary donations from governments and from National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.”

Forensic Science Activities:
“When people die during wars or disasters, or while migrating, their bodies must be handled respectfully and with dignity; and the remains of unknown individuals must be searched for, recovered and identified. Humanitarian work has come to include these tasks, for which forensic science offere matchless tools and expertise.”

International Committee on Missing Persons

“The International Commission on Missing Persons was established at the initiative of U.S. President Clinton in 1996 at the G-7 Summit in Lyon, France. Its primary role is to ensure the cooperation of governments in locating and identifying those who have disappeared during armed conflict or as a result of human rights violations. ICMP also supports the work of other organizations, encourages public involvement in its activities and contributes to the development of appropriate expressions of commemoration and tribute to the missing.

Since November 2001, ICMP has led the way in using DNA as a first step in the identification of large numbers of persons missing from armed conflict. ICMP has developed a database of over 90,000 relatives of 29,500 missing people, and more than 54,000 bone samples taken from mortal remains exhumed from clandestine graves in the countries of former Yugoslavia. By matching DNA from blood and bone samples, ICMP has been able to identify over 17,000 people who were missing from the conflicts and whose mortal remains were found in hidden graves.”

NamUs Resources

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) was established as a centralized resource in response to the needs of criminal justice agencies, medical examiners, coroners and families to link missing person and unidentified person cases across multiple jurisdictions. NamUs has proven time and again to be a catalyst for facilitating cooperation between families and agencies in their quest for resolution. As NamUs matured and responded to the needs of agencies and families, forensic service offerings and coordination — anthropology, odontology, and analytical research — have increase and proven to be a cost savings investigative asset for communities. NamUs is honored to lend its knowledge and resources in support the Conference of Western Attorney Generals’ “Combining Efforts to Identify the Missing: A United States / Mexico Project” — a National Institute of Justice funded project.

George W. Adams
National Director, NamUs

National Institute of Justice

“The National Institute of Justice — the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice — is dedicated to improving knowledge and understanding of crime and justice issues through science. NIJ provides objective and independent knowledge and tools to reduce crime and promote justice, particularly at the state and local levels.”

The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team

“The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Anthropologia Forense, EEAF) is a non profit non-governmental scientific organization based in Buenos Aires, with small offices in New York and Cordoba, and representations in Rosario, Tucaman, Mexico and South Africa. The Team was founded in 1984 in response to the need to investigate the disappearances of at least 9,000 people by the military regime that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Through the application of forensic sciences-mainly forensic anthropology, archaeology and genetics-and in collaboration with victim’s relatives and investigative bodies, EEAF aims to shed light on human rights violations, contributing to the search for truth, justice, reparation, and prevention of future abuses.”

Washington Office on Latin America

“Promoting Human Rights, Democracy, and Social Justice”

Project in Mexico:
“WOLA monitors the security situation along the U.S.-Mexico border, overseeing the U.S. security presence and exposing the border buildup’s often unseen consequences and costs. We work to increase awarenss and dangerous U.S. deportation practices, the large number of migrants who die in the desert, and the challenges faced by local and state authorities in the identification and preservation of remains. We propose policy alternatives that will protect migrants’ rights, prevent deaths, and ensure that efforts to enhance border security are measured against the reality of the situation on the ground. At the same time, WOLA works to help address cross-border gun trafficking that fuels drug-related violence in Mexico.”