Friday, October 28, 2005

10/28/05 The Cold Case King Part I

I met Gerald Nance in October 2003 in Rochester, NY at my initial TEAM Hope training. I remember that close to the end of the training, we all went out to dinner together. I was fortunate to have chosen the table where Jerry was seated. It didn’t take long for us to realize that Jerry was a virtual fountain of information about the missing. I think some of us sat in stunned silence, just trying to take in the vast amount of information he was disseminating, and this was just conversational!

I didn’t lose touch with Jerry after that. He helped me with various resources as I was starting up Project Jason. He was there with an encouraging word and good advice, not just for my personal situation, but for others, too. He helped me with a better understanding of the processes and with services that are available from NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) for the missing person’s cases that fall within the age range to qualify under Suzanne’s Law. (I will give be speaking in greater detail about this in a future post.)

When I started up the blog, I knew I wanted Jerry to participate in an interview. Even though he is very busy helping with the Hurricane Katrina situation, he took quite a bit of time to respond to my questions. His knowledge, care, concern, and great passion for the missing are why I call him the “Cold Case King”. Thank you, Jerry, and may you be blessed abundantly for all you do for all of us and our cause.

(In the interview, my questions and/or comments are in blue.)

Tell us about your background and whatever personal info you feel comfortable sharing.

I am a native of Washington DC. My first profession was as a high school teacher and football coach. I left teaching to join the US Marine Corps during Vietnam and served as an infantry officer through a tour in Vietnam, Camp Lejeune, NC, and Marine Corp Recruit Depot, Parris Island.

I intended to return to teaching following my time in the service, but ended up becoming a Special Agent with the Office of Naval Intelligence/Naval Investigative Service, later to be changed to the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service. I served 26 years as a criminal investigator specializing in crimes of violence. I spent the last five years developing and supervising the NCIS “Cold Case” Squad.

As my time was closing in on mandatory retirement, I talked with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who were interested in establishing a unit for long term missing cases and unidentified persons. When I got the call from Ben Ermini saying come on over, I retired on a Thursday and started as a Case Manager the following Monday. I have been married for 35 years; have one daughter, one granddaughter, and another grandchild on the way.

How long have you worked for NCMEC, and what various positions have you held?

I have been working for NCMEC for seven years, starting as a Case Manager and now a Senior Case Manager.

What is your current title and job duties? What is a typical day like?

I am the Senior Case Manager for the Special Case Unit. The Unit handles all the long term missing and cases of unidentified remains of persons who are believed to be juveniles or young adults. Recently, the Unit has taken on additional responsibility in establishing a serial child offender database, DNA registration for the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), and child homicides. A typical day is a mixture of all the tasks and assignments, but primarily focused on cases of long term missing.

You recently helped with the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Can you describe what you did?

On September 1, 2005, the Center ceased all normal operations to focus on family reunifications following Katrina and then Rita. Case Managers, like me, along with about 100 Team Adam Consultants and Project ALERT Volunteers have fielded over 30,000 calls involving missing persons, adult and children. The adult cases were referred to the National Center for Missing Adults and the cases involving children remained here. Unlike a “normal case” these cases are mostly attempting to rejoin kids with the PROPER guardian. It is a tough haul and much more needs to be done.

In October, I broke off the reunification efforts to assist the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (DMORT) and the coroners with identifications of unknown deceased. Fortunately, the numbers are not even close to what was first feared, but much needs to be done with what we have.

Do you have any statistics on how many long term missing persons cases exist? How do we define long term?

There are no statistics on how many long-term missing cases are out there. I currently have 410 cases of missing children, the oldest goes back to 1944 and the most recent is 1999. Not a week goes by that I do not get calls from Police and Sheriffs saying so and so disappeared in 1985 what can we do about it and I intake that case. What defines a long term case is not necessarily time, it is information. No matter how old a case might be, if information is still being generated, the case is still active. Only when all activity on a case ceases, does another Case Manager recommend the case come to me.

Do you think attitudes about missing persons were different many years ago before there were any assisting organizations? (Some of the longer term families I've run into seem to feel like that they should respect the person's decision to leave and based upon that, should not look for them.) Do you think there are more missing persons now than back then in relation to the overall population, or are we just more aware of them?

Attitudes have definitely changed. You can almost draw a line between the pre Adam Walsh days and the post Adam Walsh days. I am using him a the single example, but remember, there were over a dozen other cases that went alongside Adam’s case when John and Reve Walsh and other parents stalked the halls of Congress seeking new and better laws. When the laws were made (and there is still a need for more refinement as well as new laws), advocate organizations sprung up to support the law and see to it that others supported it as well.

I recall when I was growing up, if a kid decided to run away from home, he packed a bag, lied about his age, joined the Navy and rarely looked back for a long time. This type of situation was rarely reported to the police, not that the police would have done anything even if it was reported. (For those of us who are older, remember the bandana on a stick? Yes, I had one, packed it with clothes, and walked down the street. It was not done in any seriousness, however.)

The big issue today is a balance of the rights of an adult to disappear from sight and begin life anew. While this does happen, my experience is the majority of adults who disappear, disappear as a result of foul play and a lot of time is wasted by no one looking into the disappearance at the time when it might have made a difference. More education, training and laws need to be in place to make any missing person, adult or child, a case to be worked as a priority case until such time, a decision based on facts, can be made. (I will make coments about this at the end of the story.)

Most of the European countries and other countries around the world do it this way, why not us? Is my right to live in a cave any greater than my family’s right to peace of mind? I think this also answers the question, are there more missing persons now than before. I think there is more reporting of the missing. Obviously as population grows, so do numbers, but proportionately, I think we are the same now as always, just better and required reporting. (I would like to find a researcher who is interested in finding out about laws and assistance in European countries.)

What is the most challenging thing for you in dealing with the longer term cases?

The most challenging part of dealing with the longer term missing is to work with the police as they act on information. Part of the problem is not that the police ignore the case, but it is partly that there is no information to do anything with and they do not have the resources to generate information. It is my job to develop information that is solid enough to motivate the police into a response. I have only come across a very few departments that once given solid information, have declined to respond to it.

Can you share any success stories so that families with a long term missing person know there is hope?

The elephant that is in that very room when I talk with family members is what I term the “death factor”. Is my child alive or dead, what are the chances? To be truthful, I ignore the death factor and do not bring it up unless the family wants to discuss it. There are several reasons for my avoiding the issue, the most important one is we have had success in finding children alive after 25 to 30 years. I will not destroy anyone’s hope in finding their child alive, but remember, this is not the norm. Most of the ones we find are deceased or have been for many years and remained unidentified for a variety of reasons, but no matter what the circumstances, there is always room for hope.

To be continued........................


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