Wednesday, 30 September 2015

With 1,200 missing persons in Orange County, authorities reach out to families for DNA

For over 20 years, the identity of a human femur that washed ashore in Seal Beach and a jaw bone found elsewhere on the coast remained a mystery.

Meanwhile, the family of Percy Ray Carson wondered in anguish for two decades what had happened to the 26-year-old Long Beach resident and Army veteran, who disappeared while swimming off the coast of Huntington Beach on July 19, 1992.

It wasn’t until June that authorities connected the DNA of the remains with that of Carson’s family, identifying the bones as his.

Although Carson’s case was finally solved, another 1,200 active missing persons cases remain in Orange County, according to the Sheriff’s Department. About 100 human remains have been collected but never identified, sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock said.

For the first time, Orange County coroner and law enforcement officials are reaching out to people with missing family members in a public event Saturday, encouraging them to give DNA in the hopes that improving DNA testing technologies will lead to answers.

At the event, titled “Identify the Missing,” law enforcement and forensic officials will speak with relatives who wish to file or add to missing persons reports, submit DNA cheek swabs, and provide medical and dental information, photographs and fingerprints of their loved ones. Authorities can use the records to search The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System’s federal database, which has information on 10,000 unidentified bodies.

“We’re providing a venue that’s going to encompass all of the law enforcement and community professionals that families would need in this situation,” Allison O’Neal, the Orange County supervising deputy coroner, said after a press conference announcing the program Tuesday.

Representatives from several county police agencies, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the California Department of Justice, National Missing and Unidentified Persons System and the Mexican consulate in Santa Ana are expected to participate.

Similar events have been held in Michigan, New York, Texas and Missouri.

Coroner officials said they regularly send remains to the California Department of Justice for DNA testing to close the books on the thousands missing and unidentified persons cases they see annually.

“We’re resubmitting material all the time on these older cases to try to make a match,” said Tiffany Williams, a senior deputy coroner.

However, many missing people go unreported, officials said. Sometimes family members are afraid of how DNA samples would be used, but assistant chief deputy coroner Bruce Lyle said the DNA will only be used to help identify remains.

The new outreach approach is the result of meetings with Southern California coroner offices, where some agreed to hold similar events in the coming months.

The San Bernardino County coroner’s office held theirs in June, but turnout was reportedly low, Sheriff’s officials said. They said they hope to avoid that in Orange County by spreading the word.

At San Bernardino County’s event, a Redlands mother filed a missing persons report for the daughter she had not seen in 12 years. A detective discovered that the daughter was OK and living in Los Angeles.

Sheila Tubbs, of Newport Beach, hopes to find the same resolution for her brother, Gary Patton, who went missing during a short trip to Mexico.

Patton, of Westminster, was 64 years old when he went missing in September 2013 while on a three-day trip to photograph whales and a fishing tournament in Baja California, Mexico.

They filed a missing persons report with the Westminster Police Department, passed out fliers near where he possibly went missing, hired a private investigator and placed ads in Mexican newspapers, to no avail.

Tubbs said she and several of her siblings will submit to cheek swabs on Saturday.

“The family wants to get closure if something did happen to him,” Tubbs said. “I’m trying to be the eternal optimist.”

30 September 2015


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