DNA collection event aims to help identify human remains

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State Police say there are currently 314 cases of unidentified human remains statewide, and their loved ones likely hold the key to solving those mysteries.

An event was held in Lansing Friday to collect DNA samples from biological relatives with missing family members.

"This gives us an opportunity to have a database to pull from on missing persons when we have an unidentified individual. A lot of time we have no place to start,” said Michelle Fox, a forensic pathologist with Sparrow Hospital.

Forensic analysts depend on swabs from the mouth to collect DNA samples from biological relatives of missing people.

Linda Wood made the drive to Lansing from Holland as she continues to seek answers in the case of her brother Robert Villarreal.

"He's been missing for 30 years," Wood said.

She said the multi-jurisdictional team handling her brother's case solved two other cases before running out of funding in 2008. Wood wants to make sure each law enforcement agency and organization are sharing any pertinent information with each other.

"It's just a recognition that there are these kinds of cases out here. People really do go missing without trace and their families need answers," Wood said.

A partnership was formed among MSP, Sparrow Hospital and NamUs -- a missing persons organization -- to try and get the number of unidentified remains to zero. Investigators need are the closest biological relative to participate, photos and documents like dental and medical records, to name a few things.

"They all have loved ones, regardless of their lifestyle, regardless of how they went missing,” Fox said. "Having them step forward and try to find them is what is needed."

Pathologists say this process has already helped solve a handful of cases in Detroit but can reach outside of Michigan.

"The good thing about this information going into NamUs is that it goes across the U.S. So, if there's anybody who is missing here but there's an unidentified individual that is found in Nevada, they can be compared against those too," Fox explained.

Anyone interested in more information can contact the MSP Missing Persons Coordination Unit at MSP-MissingPersons@michigan.gov or MSP-UnidentifiedRemains@michigan.gov.

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