Sadly, and for as many reasons as there are people, individuals go missing. Quite often, that disappearance ends in tragedy, but the fate of the missing person is unknown to their friends and family, who are left not only filled with grief but also wondering just what became of their loved one.
Fortunately, technology and the U.S. Department of Justice have stepped in to help families get answers.
The website is called NamUs — The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. It’s a national centralized database for missing and unidentified people who have died. The service is free, and the information in the website can be searched by medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement officials and the general public.
Here’s the URL: http://namus.gov/
There are a number of databases within NamUs.
The Missing Persons Database has information that anyone can enter. However, before it is posted as a case on NamUs, the information is verified.
The Unidentified Persons Database contains information about people who have died and whose identity is unknown. While the information is entered by a medical examiner or a coroner, anyone can search the database using characteristics such as sex, race, distinguishing body features such as a tattoo, and even medical and dental information.
Finally, the Unclaimed Persons Database lists information about deceased persons whose identity is known but no next of kin or other family member has been identified to claim the body for burial. Again, only medical examiners and coroners can enter information in this database, but the public can search the data using a name and year of birth.
In addition to being a central repository for all of this information, NamUs includes a feature in which the system automatically scans all of the databases for matches or similarities when a new missing persons case is entered. Furthermore, every entry includes a law enforcement contact person so a family member can follow up and get more information.
While it is sad to think that a system like this is needed, NamUs does provide a glimmer of hope to family members who are searching for answers about the fate of a loved one. Even if the answer they find is not what they were hoping, at least it is an answer.
- Frank Graff
Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!