Madisonville, KY – One Western Kentucky woman is using her experience of having a loved one go missing to help people in similar situations nation wide. She has teamed up with a woman in Connecticut who wrote a federal bill to help find the missing, and is pushing Kentucky legislators to endorse it. So far Representative Ed Whitfield has signed on as a co-sponsor. Paco Long-Mendez has more.
It was a normal August day in 1995 and 23 year old Heather Teague of Madisonville was soaking in the sun on Newburgh beach in Spottsville before she disappeared. In the early days of the investigation simple processes were not completed. Sarah Teague is Heather's mother.
"There wasn't anything of Heather's on file, there was no fingerprints taken from her belongings left on the beach that day and I was just alarmed."
Over the next few years investigators found remains, though without any identifiable information on file they could not confirm a match to Heather. Sarah remembers what she asked State Police to do if they found her.
"And of course I am still in just a state of shock, and I remember vividly saying just bring me a piece of her hair. A parent shouldn't have to go through anything like that, just wanting to find a piece of her child's hair."
It's now, fourteen years after Heather's disappearance and there are still no confirmed signs of her whereabouts. Heather's Mother Sarah has come to understand the reality that she and many others across the nation face.
"Unidentified remains are there just waiting to connect the dots, to bring, to bring these people home to be able to say good by."
In the last year Sarah came in contact with Janice Smolinski of Connecticut who lost her son Billy in 2004. They are now teaming up with legislators and law enforcement officials to push a bill that Smolinski wrote. Potentially helping thousands of others missing loved ones across the nation.
"Right now we have what they call a silent crisis, and there are a hundred and sixty-five thousand missing persons in the United States and forty thousand unidentified."
Smolinski relates to Sarah and understands that her search is now for remains and the crucial time to act has long past.
"Billy's report wasn't taken seriously at the beginning, it's the first 24, 48, 72 hours that are the most important when a person goes missing."
Smolinski spent a few years developing a bill to secure money to streamline communication between victim's families, databases and law enforcement officials. Streamlining this communication may help individuals gain resolution in those few crucial days of investigation. The bill on the House floor is named for Smolinski's son Billy, and is also known as "Help Find the Missing Act".
A key database that will be utilized by Billy's Law is Internet based and called NamUs. This system is actually made up of two databases, missing persons and unidentified persons. Being internet based the system can aid searches with its speed and accessibility. System Administrator Todd Matthews says communication currently exists between NamUs and other vital databases such as the FBI's National Crime Investigation Center or NCIC, but the process is slow.
"So in legal terms you have to work out the agreement for open access to exchange between systems and Billy's Law expedites that process a great deal and allocates monies to foster these new initiatives."
-Matthews says though current communication is slow it is needed to protect data during such exchanges. In some cases states have their own or multiple databases causing the nation to be fragmented.
" all of the cases in the United States should be directed to the central system, and all of Kentucky's unidentified currently are either in the system or in the process of being entered into the system, Kentucky's way ahead."
The process of centralizing this data to a national network will be much easier if all police departments and medical examiners had reliable broadband. . Billy's Law would create incentives for such facilities to participate in online databases that may help bring closure to thousands like Sarah Teague seeking answers regarding the whereabouts of lost loved ones. For WKMS News I'm Paco Long Mendez
Billy's Law has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security and awaits further consideration.