Friday, March 16, 2012

America's Missing - Has the response to missing person cases improved in a decade?



Below is a several year old interview with Kym L. Pasqualini, founder of the National Center for Missing Adults, appearing on tru TV Crime Library pointing out how race, gender, age, and even socioeconomic status affect the response to missing person cases. To read Damsels in Distress click on the link below. Has enough been done to create social awareness?



Advancements in the national response to missing person cases

Working eighteen years in the field of missing persons and homicide victims, I have witnessed significant advancements, yet there are still many necessary improvements needed to ensure all missing persons have equality of services and fairness in media.

Desperately needed is increased federal and state funding to improve and expand direct support services for families of the missing and training for law enforcement. Also crucial are efforts to passing pass state and possibly even federal legislation to effect universal protocol across jurisdictions requiring proper response and effective handling of missing and unidentified person investigations by law enforcement agencies throughout the country.

Recently, several states have passed laws requiring law enforcement to immediately accept a report of a missing adult and enter the descriptive data into federal databases. In addition, significant advances in technology utilizing DNA obtained from relatives of missing persons are now solving cases that are decades old and providing families with answers. 

As founder of the National Center for Missing Adults, I had the honor of serving on several task forces with experts in the field of missing persons, forensics, anthropology and all levels of local, state, and federal law enforcement. 

In 2005, President's DNA Initiative announced "Advancing Justice through DNA Technology”. As the research, development and evaluation arm of the United States Department of Justice, the National Institute of Justice tasked the groups with presenting the national scope of the problem and formulating recommendations utilizing existing and advanced technology to improve the response to missing person and unidentified cases.  

One such recommendation to improve identification methods of missing and unidentified was the development of DNA collection kits. At the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI), medical examiners, coroners, and law enforcement agencies throughout the country are now provided DNA collection kits to submit Direct Reference Samples (DRS) obtained directly from the victim or personal items belonging to the victim for analysis. In addition, law enforcement agencies may submit a DNA cheek swab obtained from a family member of a missing person referred to as a Family Reference Sample (FRS). Once processed and analyzed at the Center for Human Identification, DNA profiles are uploaded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) where they are cross-referenced for matches.

Time is the enemy in any missing person investigation. With each passing day families of the missing suffer significant trauma caused by ambiguous loss, the "not knowing" the fate of their loved ones. Programs like these have proven successful in expediting identification and providing families with answers. 




Uniting Efforts


Every time a missing person case receives attention from the public it creates the potential of generating that one lead that law enforcement needs to solve a case. In most every case, someone out there knows something. Solving missing person cases is dependent upon information sharing and involvement between government programs, law enforcement, advocacy groups, the media and the public. While we have made significant and in my opinion historical technological advancements, we still face the fact that we rarely see minorities in national news headlines and improving methods to create awareness is necessary to create social change.



Introducing One Agency Creating Social Change and Raising Awareness of Missing Minorities



I would like to introduce an organization and acknowledge the tireless efforts of a woman I admire and respect who is working to help missing persons of color and their families by providing resources and tools to respond, search, and cope with the disappearance of a loved one. Derrica Wilson is a veteran official from law enforcement and founder of the Black & Missing Foundation (BAM), a nonprofit 501c3 organization.

BAM provides services to victims, training to law enforcement, and educates minority communities about personal safety. Since 2008, BAM has focused on a segment of the national victim population that has been under-served and continues to make significant contributions to the missing person field.

BAM recently teamed with TVONE to present the all-new television series Find our Missing


Missing NC Senior, Hollis Jennings

Hollis Jennings is classified as 'endangered missing' and vanished from his residence in Charlotte, NC on November 22, 2011. To view additional information about the disappearance of Hollis Jennings and many other missing persons please visit www.blackandmissinginc.com.  


Other National Resources


National Missing and Unidentified Persons System

Information sharing is vital to the recovery of missing persons and the identification of unidentified decedents. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS) is the centralized national repository and resource center that maintains data for missing persons and unidentified decedents throughout the country. NAMUS is a free public database that enables anyone to enter information about a missing or unidentified person, to include a new section for Unclaimed Persons (those identified but unclaimed by next of kin).

The website at www.namus.gov provides numerous resources for the public and families of missing persons such as links to state clearinghouses, advocacy groups, law enforcement agencies, medical examiners, and coroners. It also provides the end-user the ability to print full-color posters and search the database using descriptive information such as gender, race, scars, tattoos, and dental records.

NAMUS also provides free DNA testing, odontology (dental), anthropology, and additional forensic services. National Institute of Justice requires all DNA samples submitted to the Center for Human Identification at University North Texas also entered into NAMUS by law enforcement, medical examiners, and coroners.





National Center for Missing & Exploited Children


The disappearances of children during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s would forever change how law enforcement responded to missing children cases.  Etan Patz, only six-years old, vanished in 1979, while on his way to school in New York City and never seen again. Over a two-year period from 1979-1981, approximately twenty-nine African American children and teens were abducted and murdered in Atlanta Georgia. Following these tragedies, six-year-old Adam Walsh vanished in 1981 while at a Florida shopping mall with his mother. Little Adam’s disappearance would become the most recognizable missing child case in US history.

In 1984, the United States Congress passed the Missing Children’s Assistance Act designating the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) as the national clearinghouse and resource center for missing children. In June 1984, during a Whitehouse Ceremony, President Ronald Reagan opened NCMEC and launched the national 24-hour hotline 1-800-THE-LOST (5678).

Funded through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), NCMEC provides a vast array of services to include assistance and training to local, state, and federal law enforcement and support services to families of missing children. In addition to recovery, training and investigative services, NCMEC introduced the CyberTipline  and associated programs focused on prevention and response to child sexual exploitation such as child pornography, child prostitution, and sex-slavery.

Over the years, NCMEC has developed outstanding resources and education programs families, schools, child-care facilities, and providers to help keep children safe. The NetSmartz program also provides educators and families with information to help keep children safe while using the Internet.

To obtain information and free resources to help keep your children safe, visit www.missingkids.com.



America’s Most Wanted

America’s Most Wanted (AMW), probably most recognized as the national television show hosted by John Walsh and responsible for apprehending over 1,000 fugitives. John is also one of the most outspoken and well-known missing person advocates in the world. Since AMW’s national debut in 1988, the show has been credited for the recovery of approximately 50 missing children.

John Walsh, host of America's Most Wanted
When John’s son, Adam Walsh, vanished on July 27, 1981, his life took an unexpected turn and he turned his grief into action. A former hotel marketing executive turned Crime Fighter, John’s tireless efforts were instrumental in the establishment of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and he continues to assist other families of missing persons across the country.

Two weeks after his son vanished, Adam’s decapitated body was located in a canal. For 27 years, John and his wife Reve waited for justice. In December 2008, Hollywood (FL) Police Department announced they had identified evidence that drifter, Ottis Toole, an already convicted killer was responsible for Adam’s abduction and murder. Toole had made two admissions he was responsible for Adam’s death and then recanted. Toole died in prison in 1996 and never convicted for the Adam’s homicide but the Walsh family acknowledged there was a peace at least having an answer.  John reminds other families never to give up hope.

In addition to profiling dangerous fugitives, AMW features missing children and adults on the show’s website www.amw.com and regularly features missing person cases on the weekly program now on Lifetime television. Resources for families of missing persons can be located on the website as well as resources for sex trafficking, legislation, current Amber Alerts.

You can also find resources and stories about child and teen safety, family and community issues, emergency preparedness and much more on the AMW Safety Center website. The website includes a searchable sex are offender registry listing photographs, convictions and addresses of sex offenders in your area. The website even provides a section where you can submit questions directly to John. You can visit the website at http://safety.amw.com.






Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Local Phoenix woman determined to change missing person laws in Arizona

My recent EXAMINER.COM  article regarding a courageous Phoenix woman, Amy Dattilo's tireless effort to change Arizona law for other families of missing.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Kelly Armstrong Deserves Justice and a Proper Burial


KELLY ARMSTRONG INCLUDED ON LIST OF MISSING MOMS
A 28 year-old mother of four children, Kelly Armstrong from Kokomo, Indiana joined a seemingly ever growing list of missing mothers throughout the United States last September 2011. Though there are no official statistics that reveal the true number of missing young women with dependents, as of January 31, 2012, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Crime Information Center (NCIC) reports there are 3,699 active missing person cases of women between the ages of 22-29.  NCIC reports a total of 83,743 active missing person cases to include men and women of all ages as of January 31, 2012.
Last September, Kelly’s family became concerned for her well-being when they had not heard from her in several weeks. Their concern elevated when they visited her residence and began talking to neighbors who said they had not seen her in weeks. Her family immediately reported her disappearance to Kokomo Police Department. By the time the report was made Kelly’s family knew something was wrong as she would have never left her 18-month old son alone and now in CPS custody.
Following the family’s report, Major Brian Sheldon of the Kokomo Police Department stated, “We are behind the eight ball a little bit, so we are doing a lot of follow up talking to individuals who might have known her or her acquaintances to get some information about where she could possibly be.” Kelly is believed to have vanished in early August so it is estimated they may have been approximately six weeks behind the eight ball.
Kelly Armstrong, photo courtesy of her sister Shelly Rush
LOST IN TIME
Elapsed time between a person’s disappearance and when police are notified is not uncommon when family and friends do not live in close proximity of each other and usually occurs after friends and family become concerned when they have not heard from the individual.  As time passes, the more complex the investigation can be for authorities on the onset.  Unlike a homicide crime scene investigation where there is a definitive starting point for investigators, missing person investigations can be especially challenging because all too often a person vanishes without a trace, no witnesses and no scene of a crime.
When the disappearance of an individual has been determined suspicious or involuntary, statistically if not located within the first 24-48 hours the chances of finding the person safe significantly diminishes with each passing hour. It is always a race against time when searching for a missing person and every piece of information and physical evidence paramount to the outcome of the case. Along with each passing day, traces of evidence at the crime scene lose physical integrity and reliability, deterioration occurs, and contamination.
If foul-play is suspected in the disappearance, securing the crime scene and preservation of physical evidence is vital to potentially locating the victim and building a solid case against the perpetrator of the crime.  Evidence becomes the voice of the victim; the story-teller. Whatever the perpetrator touches, wherever he steps, fibers, blood spatter give investigators the ability to reconstruct the crime scene. When properly collected, physical evidence rarely fails to accurately represent what occurred at a crime scene and human failure to find it.
ADMISSION TO MURDER
On February 21, Kelly’s live-in boyfriend Travis Funke, 34, was charged for her death. The prosecutor confirmed Funke had admitted to beating Kelly to death with a hammer and throwing her body in the trash.
Travis Funke
In an affidavit it states during the initial phase of the investigation in September, Funke cut off his ankle bracelet and apparently tried to commit suicide shortly after being questioned by police. This resulted in a preliminary arrest for charges related to cutting off the ankle monitor and escape.  While incarcerated, a cellmate told police Funke admitted to killing Kelly with a hammer and concerned there may still be evidence remaining at his residence.
It has been confirmed in a probable cause affidavit police did locate several large blood stains on the walls, furniture and carpet along with a hammer covered with blood. A DNA family reference sample was obtained from Kelly’s parents confirming a 99.9 percent match.
While Funke admits to killing Kelly on July 8th and dumping her body, he claims Kelly initiated the attack with the hammer claiming she may have hit him in the head knocking him unconscious and had vague memories hitting her repeatedly with the hammer that he was able to take away from her but claims he thought the entire incident was a dream awaking to find Kelly lying deceased on the floor. According to Funke he placed her body in a trash receptacle and proceeded to try to clean up the blood stains with bleach.
To the dismay of Kelly’s family, Funke has been charged with voluntary manslaughter, which carries a much lighter sentence than a first-degree murder charge. The current voluntary manslaughter charge only carries 45 years, 10 years suspended and the potential Funke could be out within 17 years.  Kelly’s family is outraged. An injustice when one weighs the loss of a young woman’s life and children who now must face life without their mother.
Questions remain as to how the investigation has been handled and if there is a possibility evidence may have been compromised early on. While Funke’s residence should have been sealed off early on with the discovery of blood, information surfaced that a young relative had broken into the house while Funke was incarcerated and proceeded to have a party and help herself to Kelly’s personal belongings. When David Armstrong arrived at the residence to retrieve photographs that his daughter had in her home, he was met by Funke’s mother who had moved into the residence. “I showed up and couldn’t believe Funke’s mother’s suitcases were there and the washer running,” said Armstrong. “I have no confidence in this investigation when my family was told to stay away because police considered it a crime scene, yet Funke’s family had been permitted to come and go as they pleased.”
A FATHER’S PROMISE
The Kokomo Police conducted a six day search of the Wabash Family Landfill but have since discontinued search efforts to retrieve her remains. The family was told police have depleted resources, unable to continue and suspended the search. Since Kelly’s disappearance the family has courageously and tirelessly continued the search for her. The pain of living the nightmare of ambiguity evident in their faces and the anguish in the voices.  All along Kelly’s family remained determined to bring her home and they still are.

Wabash County Landfill 
David Armstrong says he will not accept a landfill as the final resting place for his daughter. No parent should have to live with the thought of their child lay amidst refuse let alone have to personally pay to have their daughter’s body retrieved. Working nearly 20 years in the field of missing persons and homicide cases,  I find this not only a disservice to Kelly Armstrong’s family but a slap in the face to every family in this country who awaits the return of their missing loved one, if even to give them a proper burial. It is heart-wrenching to think that this family does not have the assistance from authorities to search for Kelly but being expected to visit a landfill to pay respects to your murdered child is unthinkable. When a family is told their loved has been murdered yet their remains are not returned the family is sentenced to a tortuous limbo and unable to begin a natural mourning process.  For the family of Kelly Armstrong, their sentence could last well after Funke is released from his voluntary manslaughter sentence.  This is the epitome of injustice.
What if this was your daughter?
Though David has vowed to recruit help from across the country to include search teams to ensure his daughter’s remains and give his daughter a proper burial. It is my hope the Indiana Attorney General and state congressional representatives will closely evaluate what they would do if their child had been murdered and what it would be like to visit their child’s final resting place and lay flowers at a dump. No family deserves to be abandoned and the state should ensure this does not happen. If I were in state leadership in the state of Indiana I would make it my mission to find the resources.
A father’s vow to his child that he will find her, bring her home and give her an honorable burial. Going back to the ancients a proper burial of another human being was seen as a requirement; to think any father would have to do this alone is unimaginable.
David Armstrong is asking anyone who would like to help to visit Operation Find Kelly.
Author – Kym L. Pasqualini
Founder, National Center for Missing Adults
& Social Network Advocate
Missing Persons Advocacy Network
Phone: 800-889-3463 (FIND)