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Database praised for helping solve cold cases underutilized by law enforcement, experts say

No single database centralizes all missing person cases
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Posted at 8:08 PM, Oct 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-14 10:00:00-04

Oct. 14 marks 11 years since Janie Duval Del Rosario has heard from her daughter.

“I’m living day by day,” she said through tears.

Her daughter, Yesenia, was 19-years-old when she went missing from the boardwalk in Hollywood beach. According to her mom, Yesenia told her cousins she was going for ice cream but never came back.

“It’s like the earth opened up and swallowed her alive,” her mom said.

Yesenia’s case has been cold ever since.

Her name can be found in the various databases for missing people nationwide including the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, also known as NamUs.

NamUs is a federally funded online database for missing, unidentified and unclaimed persons in the U.S. It’s often described by cold-case experts as law enforcement’s most effective and accurate missing persons database.

The problem...many law enforcement agencies don’t use it.

Dr. Erin Kimmerle is a leading expert on cold cases and runs the Florida Institute of Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science at the University of South Florida. The institute helps law enforcement agencies across the country solve cold cases.

For years, Dr. Kimmerle has been pushing to get states to pass laws mandating law enforcement use NamUs to report the nearly 100,000 people who remain missing in the U.S. Other national and state databases, she says, are often out of date and inaccurate. In addition, unlike national and state databases law enforcement is currently required to report to, NamUs lets users post pictures, submit and track DNA and it can be accessed by anyone at any time, including the public who often hold the keys to unlocking cold case mysteries.

“It’s huge and a lot of cases get solved that way,” she said. “Someone sees something they recognize, an afghan blanket or a sweater."

Currently, 10 states including New York and California, have passed laws requiring law enforcement to use NamUs. Legislation is swiftly moving through Texas and Pennsylvania.

Florida remains among the majority of U.S. states that still make reporting to NamUs voluntary for law enforcement.

“When it's voluntary, there’s information in there but not all the information so you’re really limited especially when it comes to unidentified persons. We have to know who we’re looking for,” explained Kimmerle.

“It’s a win-win situation. This is not a bipartisan issue,” said Tom McAndrew, an investigator for the Pennsylvania State Police.

He helped champion the bill that will soon require all Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies to use NamUs.

“There are people at home who love true crime stories, they love cold case stories and they can go online and work that case themselves and provide that tip to the police and it works,” he said.

Hernando County Sheriff’s Detective George Loydgren is also a huge fan of the NamUs database.

“I think every state and agency should use it,” he said.

Loydgren told us the system has proven to be so helpful to his cold case unit, it’s now part of the agency’s standard operating procedure when it comes to working and reporting missing person cases.

“That’s millions of people who can view that and do the work for me. I'm only going to benefit from them calling up and saying ‘hey I saw that man or woman or I know what happened to them’ and I can work the case with a partner and bring that loved one home to their family," he said.

There are currently several databases for law enforcement to report missing person cases. Since there is not one single clearinghouse and many databases are out of date, it’s unclear exactly how many missing people there are in Florida.

Florida law enforcement is required to report missing people to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and Florida Crime Information Center. (FCIC) Currently, those databases report more than 3,200 missing people in the state, but critics say those databases are often antiquated and problematic.

Detective Loydgren believes it’s time Florida joins other states in making NamUs a "must use" for Florida law enforcement.

“It’s a no-lose situation. It doesn’t take that long to input the data and you reach a wide audience. If it, inevitably, helps you locate your missing person that’s what you want to do,” he said.

For Janie Duval Del Rosario, resolve has yet to come.

Additional pictures posted on NamUs show what her daughter may look like today. They are images the public can see, giving law enforcement and a grieving mother more eyes to find the daughter who went for ice cream and never returned.

“I just love her so much. I have her in my prayers that she’ll be found,” she said.