Friday, December 23, 2005

12/23/05 Return of the Cold Case King

Our friend, Gerald Nance, Senior Cold Case Manager at NCMEC, took the time to answer some additional questions I had stemming from the answers he gave to the first set of interview questions. Gerald is one of the most respected and experienced cold case managers in the US.

Please read the original interviews with Gerald, which are very informative for anyone who has a missing loved one, or takes an interest in our cause.

The reference to the previous answer given by Gerald is in italics. My follow-up questions are in blue. My comments are in purple.

"…..we have had success in finding children alive after 25 to 30 years."

Can you tell any stories about this type of success story specifically, even if you have to change names & locations?

One child was taken as an infant. Abduction of infants are usually by people who want to raise a child, yet they cannot bear one. In cases like this, the child, now an adult, has no knowledge of the real family.

There was another case of a girl who, when she was 15, was reported by her dad as being kidnapped by a motorcycle gang. The case was before the Federal Child Search Assistance Act. It was reported to the police and then closed for what reason, no one there today can figure.

Kidnappings by motorcycle gangs are rare. Most often, the girl leaves voluntarily. I had a good feeling she was still out there. It took some digging, she had married twice (name changes) and had reversed her middle and first name, but I found her a couple of states over from where she last was seen by her folks. When I contacted her, it is like many that I find after a period of time, they did not want the family to know of their whereabouts. I tell the parents I work with that this happens but if they give me permission, I can give out the parents address. Everyone, including this girl, says ok, but don't you (me) tell them. But also, in every case I have had, the child calls within a few weeks. Granted these cases are rare, but it does show that no matter how long they have been missing, there is always a chance.

"… foot in the world on the day the child disappeared.."

Any suggestions as to how they step out of that world? Have you seen various ways in which this has occurred? You mention becoming active in the cause, but for a person whose personality has always been passive, is there something they can do to step out?

I wish I knew of a magic technique. I have asked doctors and counselors the same thing and get either blank stares back or some psychobabble crap that I think means this is everyone for themselves. Most of the ones I have seen move forward have used this terrible experience much like you have--starting to educate others, inflame others to the fact this is a real problem. Most people are not that strong a personality to become a leader of a movement or a group, but being passionate about something in your life, I think, helps heal.

I believe that in helping others, I have a healing of sorts. While this wound will never completely heal even if we were to be given the answer to Jason’s fate, I feel like I can move on when I look beyond myself and my sorrows. I know that not everyone is an activist. Some of you may be quiet participants, and perhaps spend time praying for others. There are many ways a person can reach out. It may not necessarily be in the cause. Doing some other type of volunteer work may be more suited to certain individuals. Working within the cause may be too painful for them as it is a constant reminder of their loss. Just as the ways we deal with this vary, so will be the ways that we find to move out of being stuck in the world on the day our loved one disappeared.


How close have the artists come to the real thing when the child is found?

Real close. When there are good reference photographs (photo of mom and dad when they were at the age of what you are aging the child to), the likeness is well over 90%. It is not much lower if you only have one parent as a reference photo, or when you have to go to siblings.

The most difficult one is when the child is under three. Rather than a true age enhancement, the artist will often do a composite, but this requires good reference photos of both mom and dad.

Please take advantage of the FREE benefit of having an age progression done. If your missing loved one is still alive, we need to know who we are looking for. Appearance will change as the person ages. NCMEC will do free age progressions on registered persons through age 20, and Project Edan will do them on missing person age 21 and older. (This is the age at the time of the disappearance.) When preparing to do the age progression, provide photos if possible of the parents of the missing person at about the same age the person is now. If an age progression is done without asking you for these photos, ask for a re-do.

"European countries and other countries around the world do it this way..."

Any brief examples of their laws or what they do that could be translated to a usable format here?

Most other countries, there is no difference between a missing adult or a missing child. Everything is geared to risk factors and a missing person is judged at high risk, moderate risk, low risk. What is important here is any one missing who is judged at high risk, all the forces of the police and the military become mobilized in a search effort, to include satellite information. You can take the worst cases from here and never find one that would match the efforts given in the same or lesser case overseas. We are supposed to be the world leader in everything, but countries out do us in efforts to protect kids, find missing persons, and identify deceased unknowns. As a society, that is what really shows our true priorities, and it is not with missing or unidentified persons.

The model legislation takes a step in the right direction as it uses a risk factor rating system. It will at least begin the process of change in the way how LE responds in missing persons cases. Please be sure to read about our campaign to get this legislation passed in all 50 states:

"My experience is the majority of adults who disappear, disappear as a result of foul play...."

Are there any stats behind this, or is this the calculation based upon your cases? I think that many people are looking for stats, wondering if in their heads they can say "gone 1 year, X % chance of being deceased...gone 2 years, X % chance, etc.

There are no stats I am aware of that can determine a connection between length of time gone vs alive or deceased. Everyone makes a big deal in this country about privacy of the individuals, they could sue us (I hear that a lot). Other countries, anyone can report anyone missing and regardless of the circumstances, a case must be open. My opinion is too many agencies use the "privacy" deal as an excuse to not do anything. In every missing person (adult) that I was involved in, the adult was either a fugitive from justice and therefore missing, or the victim of foul play. I had one case and one case only where the guy disappeared and faked his death to start a new life. Even in that case, since he had faked his death, would someone not want to investigate it? I hear so much from the cops about how busy they are with the new stuff. True, new stuff happens all the time, but that too is a cop out. They do not get credit for cases not solved and nothing is harder to solve than a long term missing or unidentified person.

The model legislation, as mentioned above, mandates that LE open a case on missing adults upon request.

DNA Analysis

My understanding is that the FBI submission takes many months longer than the TX U submission. Is that your understanding, too?

Yes, but even the NTU facilities are being over taxed. Too much work and not enough hands to do it. In the Texas lab, that is all they do. At the FBI, most of the work is criminal work needed for trials and investigations.

Families of the missing: Be sure to read these sections on the original blog posting.

Will the experience with Katrina change the way you do or view any aspects of your job?

Not me personally. I would hope there are some lessons learned here for the Center so things don't end up becoming a life of its own and that the intake criteria would not be the same. Most of the time here for me is spent working on missing vs deceased unknowns, and that is pretty much what I was and still am doing for Katrina. What I do not like is how my other cases suffer, but we have to do what is in front of us, and Katrina was most certainly in front of not only us, but the world. I hope we all do better if there is a next time.

"96% of that group resolves itself in a few days."

So, 96% of the 96% are resolved nearly right away? Would this be within 1-2 weeks?

"This is very difficult if the child has run away in the past. In some states, it is not a crime to be a runaway,"

Do you have a list of states where it is not against the law to be a runaway? If it is not against the law there, then the police don't have to do anything other than the NCIC entry? That seems SO wrong!

I have elected to sort of combine these last two. There are two problems with assessing the risk criteria of children who are runaways. First is if the child has runaway (and returned) in the past. Roughly 96% of runaway kids are resolved quickly, and by that I mean in about a week. The child comes home on their own, parents track them down, police actually account for a lot of them, some are even found hanging around their school, go figure. These two issues allow for police to "play the odds" and in other words, not do too much since most of the time, the kid is found or returns on his or her own, and they are not harmed.

It would almost be better for the effort if this percentage wasn't so high, but it is and that is good. I think there are still about 17 states where it is not a crime to be a runaway. This means all the police can and will do is take a report and enter the child into NCIC and if the parent is lucky and gets a lead on her own, have the police go to the address and pick the child up. In TX for example, the age reason to them is 16. If your 16 year old runs away from MO and is caught in TX, all the police will do is suggest he call home. No pick up unless there is a warrant. It is even worse in Washington State, not only will they not pick them up, but social programs make living "on the street" not really living on the street. Free housing, free meals, eye care, dental care, health clinics and even a massage if his little butt hurts from sitting on the park bench all day.

Interested persons living in TX or WA should ask their elected officials what it would take to reverse these laws.

Police will tell you that trying to track every runaway would take away from the child who is really abducted. Problem with that is, if you allow the police to make the assessment, all of them would be runaways except for the ones who are very young, and those that have witnesses to the abduction.

In law enforcement, there is a pecking order, or food chain if you prefer. In almost every department, the bottom three are missing kids, missing adults, and unidentified remains that were not a result of a homicide. It is so sad, that a social issue that concerns every parent and family in the US hardly is a ripple to the ones who are charged to protect and serve.

It is sad indeed, and this is what we are fighting for: to change current attitudes and procedures that effect lives. Help us make a start on this:

Thank you, Gerald, once again for taking time from your busy schedule to answer these questions, and thank you for all you do.


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