Ohio Missing Persons Day aims to ensure loved ones aren't forgotten

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LONDON — Dana Forney points to the clay head that rests on a table behind her and can’t quite stop the quiver in her voice as she explains why the macabre display is there.

“Somebody out there somewhere knows who she is,” said Forney, a supervisor in the Criminal Intelligence Unit of the Ohio attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation. “Somebody out there once loved her. We need to find them.”

Then she points to the poster behind her in the office, the one with dozens of faces eerily staring back at her.

“They are parents and sons and sisters and friends,” she said. “And they are all somewhere.”

The clay head is a model made from a scan of one of the 107 sets of remains found over the years across Ohio that are still unidentified and unclaimed, but for which an anthropologist has been able to indicate some age and characteristic identifiers. And the faces on the poster are some of the 1,357 adults and children listed as missing in Ohio as of 5 p.m. Thursday.

Finding answers for even one of those families is what makes the second annual “Ohio Missing Persons Day” on Sunday so important, Forney said.

The event, set for 1 to 4 p.m. at Battelle, 505 King Ave. on the North Side, will feature information available about those unidentified remains. That includes the subject of the clay head in Forney’s office, which represents the body of a woman between 33 and 60 years old that was found partially wrapped in a blanket near a playground at an apartment complex in Cincinnati on May 31, 2018.

It also will highlight the latest DNA technologies available to solve missing-persons cases, and people related to someone missing can give their own DNA for Ohio’s Project Link, which uses science to identify remains and offer families and investigators answers.

Those who attend can get crisis support and be linked to resources, and talk with law enforcement officials and the county coroner. They also can bring information they think might help investigators, stroll through a memory garden honoring the missing and gather for a candlelight vigil.

The idea for the special day — introduced last year — came from an analyst at BCI who pointed out that much attention is paid to children who are missing, but that adults can seem forgotten or overlooked.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said advances in DNA testing, forensics and sketching and sculpting unidentified remains all should make solving cases easier for BCI’s Missing Persons Unit. But too often, those who love someone who disappears are reluctant to make a report. That’s troublesome because time is of the essence for investigators.

“Missing-persons cases can be especially frustrating because you don’t know if the person just got tired of their life and moved to Tucson or whether something more terrible was done to them by some bad actor,” Yost said. “To not know what happened … it starts to suck the life out of families.”

Sunday’s event is being hosted at Battelle, which has a long history of collaboration with BCI. A few years ago, Battelle invested $2 million to get the latest DNA technology into the state’s crime lab in Madison County. What’s called “next-generation sequencing” allows for genetic information to be extracted from even the most-degraded remains.

Advances in technology and improved workflow also have allowed BCI labs to reduce the turnaround time for results from months to just three weeks, said Hallie Dreyer, a forensic scientist with BCI.

She and Forney agreed that there are few things more satisfying than being able to call someone who has wondered for months or even years about a loved one’s fate. And that’s why Sunday’s event is so important.

“These families who have someone missing just want to be heard,” Forney said. “We want them to know we remember their loved one and are working hard to find them answers.”

For more information about Ohio Missing Persons Day, visit https://bit.ly/30uapHV. For more information about Ohio’s missing persons, visit www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov/Ohio-Missing-Persons or call 855-224-6446.

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