Finding the Missing
with NamUs Staff
National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs
Online database and notification system aids in resolution of Fla. case
The public's ability to search NamUs — the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System — has been instrumental in resolving cases since its inception
On March 8, 2008, police in Clearwater (Fla.) found a man dead on a side street. He carried no identification, and no one matching his description had been reported missing. The case was turned over to the Pinellas County Medical Examiner’s office, which entered data about the case into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) in July 2008. NamUs is a program of the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice that helps families, law enforcement, medical examiners, and coroners match data about missing persons with data about unidentified persons.
William A. Pellan, director of investigations for the medical examiner’s office, had no leads on the identity of the man. A forensic artist enhanced the photo of the unidentified man and the resulting image was very good. The local newspaper and television stations ran the photo in hopes that someone would recognize him. Pellan felt certain someone knew him even if they did not know his full name. But the media exposure did not turn up a single lead.
More than a year later, Sue D’Agostino from Islip, New York saw a public service announcement about NamUs on television. D’Agostino and her family had not heard from her brother, David Brennesholtz, for nearly ten years, but no one had ever filed a missing persons report. Ms. D’Agostino began searching the unidentified side of NamUs and found that NamUs was full of potential leads. She continued to search over the next several months. Eventually, she saw the photo from Clearwater and recognized her brother as NamUs case #2297.
D’Agostino contacted the Pinellas County Medical Examiner’s office to learn what she could do to identify her brother. DNA samples were collected from D’Agostino and her mother to confirm that they were related to the Clearwater man. On May 10, 2010, a completed DNA report confirmed that the unidentified man was her brother, David Brennesholtz.
The public’s ability to search NamUs has been instrumental in resolving several cases since the system’s inception in January 2009. Brennenholz’s identification allowed the Pinellas County Medical Examiner’s office and Clearwater Police to close their cases, and brought resolution to a family. D’Agostino doesn’t think she would have ever found her brother had she not seen his photo on NamUs and may not have thought to look for him in Florida.
Because NamUs is a national system that crosses state, county, and municipal borders, it reaches between different law enforcement agencies, giving all government authorities and the general public equal access and ability to become actively involved in solving cases. This unique feature of NamUs has assisted agencies in resolving 18 cases in the last two years.
Nationwide, 4,400 unidentified remains are found every year and over 1,000 of these cases remain unidentified. Currently, there may be up to 40,000 human remains that are unidentified.
Free online training about NamUs is available to law enforcement. For more information on the online training or how to become a registered user, send an email or call 727-549-6067, ext. 204.