INDIANAPOLIS — There is believed to be more than 600 unidentified people sitting in evidence boxes at coroner’s offices and police department’s across Indiana.
A team of investigators and coroners are now trying to get that number to zero through a new initiative called Identify Indiana. It’s a partnership between the Indiana Coroner’s Association, the Human Identification Center at the University of Indianapolis and the Indiana State Police laboratory.
“The end goal is to get these people home,” said Newton County Coroner Scott McCord. “Let’s solve these. I mean we can do it, the technology is there and we have a good group of people that are willing to do it.”
McCord started the initiative with Dr. Krista Latham who is the director of U Indy’s Human Identification Center. Their goal is to build DNA profiles for every unidentified person across the state.
“These are not individuals who imagined themselves in boxes or in places where their family members didn’t know where they were they were located,” Dr. Latham said.
Those DNA profiles can then be entered into national databases and genealogical investigators can use them to track down family members and in turn identify the human remains.
It’s called genealogical DNA.
“This is new. It wasn’t there when I started with Indiana State Police 16 years ago,” said forensic scientist Robert Dilley. “It wasn’t even on the horizon as something that could be done.”
But those genealogical investigations take time.
So the Identify Indiana team is hoping to get DNA samples directly from family members of missing people. With those samples they can compare them directly with the DNA profiles and see if there’s a match.
“That is the easiest way to go about identifying these bodies,” Dilley explained. “It gets more complicated when we don’t know who the body could be.”
Dilley says the laboratory is working to be able to do genealogical DNA in-house but right now it has to be outsourced. He says they’re hoping to receive about $30 thousand from the budget to get that technology up and running.
For his part, McCord will be tasked with getting all of Indiana’s coroners to forward the Identify Indiana team their unidentified cases. He believes it could be a game changer.
“I’m not sure if all of them can, but I’m willing to bet money that we can get the vast majority of them identified,” McCord said.
Latham says she hopes the initiative will help provide closure for families across Indiana and possibly the country.
“The ability to identify them give them a name and then return them to their families is really the motivating factor for all of us,” Dr. Latham says.
Anyone who has a family member missing and would like to provide a DNA sample can do so by contacting the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.