State not teaching officials about tool used to solve missing person cases; 67% not in federal database

Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 11:27 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 14, 2022 at 11:33 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - 105 of Iowa’s 315 missing person cases are entered into a federal database called NamUs, which stores identification information like DNA, dental records and fingerprints.

The tool allows law enforcement across the country to identify people, regardless of where a case originated, rather than bodies going unidentified, possibly cremated and eliminating any hope for closure. Documents, our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team received through a public records request show NamUs isn’t taught at Iowa’s Law Enforcement Academy or by the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

13 States, according to the Department of Justice, have laws requiring local law enforcement to report to NamUs. Iowa isn’t one of those states.

Law Enforcement doesn’t know NamUs exists

Medina Rahmanovic, who runs the Missing Person Information Clearinghouse for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said local law enforcement agencies are responsible for sending information to NamUs.

But, our KCRG-TV9 i9 Team found multiple local law enforcement agencies don’t know about the federal database, which the Department of Justice said helped resolved more than 3,000 missing person cases.

One example was the Carroll City Police Department, which has been searching for Joshua Lampe for about five years according to state records. His name isn’t located in NamUs, as of Thursday night.

Brad Burke, who is the department’s police chief, said he wasn’t aware the database existed when our i9 Investigative Team called to find out why Lampe wasn’t in the database.

Don Phillips (D), who is the Wapello County Sheriff, said the process to get Dennison Clark Stookesberry, who was reported missing in 1999, onto NamUs wasn’t complicated. However, he wasn’t aware of the resource until NamUs called his office looking for DNA

“I had no idea,” Sheriff Phillips said. “I’ve seen it before, you know we had flyers before, but I didn’t know what they did for law enforcement.”

Documents, which our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team received from a public records request, used to train law enforcement on missing person investigations. NamUs isn’t mentioned in the 45 pages.

Wes Breckenridge, who is the interim director for the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, said in an email the slide show above is the same material used at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.

Medina Rahmanovic said Iowa’s Missing Person Information Clearinghouse uses information from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and conversations between DPS and a local law enforcement agency can teach departments about resources. However, Iowa doesn’t specifically teach NamUs because the law doesn’t require a report to the database.

“The state of Iowa isn’t required to report information to NamUs, so we don’t discuss it at the local level,” Rahmanovic said.

Rahmanovic said Iowa’s Missing Person Information Clearinghouse uses information from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). She said not every state has an individual website as a clearinghouse, like Iowa and most people under 18 on the website are likely runaways who will be found.

Advocates Push for Law Requiring Local Law Enforcement Report to NamUs

Dr. Karen Shalev-Greene, who is the director of the center for the study of missing persons at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, said a national clearinghouse is important because there is a consistency around publicity, data and other services for all missing people. She said those expectations are passed down to law enforcement agencies.

“It’s a very very complex area of work,” Dr. Shalev-Green said. “So, the more information we can provide different agencies in how to do things across the board the better [services for missing people].”

She said without a service like NamUs, bodies are likely to remain lost in the system and not returned to their families.

Marilyn McAllister-Snelling, who has been searching for her missing son David McAllister for about five years, said her son wasn’t in NamUs for about three months. She said she’s concerned his body was already found during that gap and cremated, meaning nobody will find her son, David.

“It’s such an empty, emptiness you can never fill,” McAllister-Snelling said. “So the pain is more than physical pain, you know its physical, its emotional, its spiritual. it’s just such an empty space that can never be filled.”

Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and West Virginia have laws requiring the use of NamUs for missing and/or unidentified persons, according to the Department of Justice.

McAllister-Snelling believes Iowa should have a similar requirement.

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