In 2015 U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy proposed the federal “Help Find the Missing Act,” or “Billy’s Law,” in honor of missing Waterbury man William Smolinski Jr. He sought to create an organized system to match remains to missing people. It would of provided an incentive grants program for law enforcement and medical examiners to report information to NCIC, the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) and the National DNA Index System. Still, congress does not support it.
Over the years, variations of Billy’s Law have seen more success at a state level.
“Help Find The Missing Act” Has Been Signed in 9 States
Tennessee’s “Help Find The Missing Act” requires that the regional forensic center submits information, and if available, DNA and fingerprints. It also requires law enforcement to send dental records to NamUs within 10 days of receiving them.
Oklahoma passed Francine’s Law in 2019. It is named after Francine Frost, who was abducted in February 1981. In 2014 her grandson found a record with a description matching Francine’s on the NamUs. DNA testing confirmed it was Francine, who had only been 60 miles away for the last 30 years.
It requires law enforcement agencies statewide to enter information regarding all missing persons and unidentified remains into the publicly available National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) within 30 days. If the individual is missing under suspicious circumstances or under 18 years old, the information must be entered into the system immediately.
3. New Mexico
The Mark Daniel Aguilar Information Sharing Requirement was signed into law by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham on March 22, 2019. It is named after 54-year-old Mark Daniel Aguilar, a Native American man who was last seen by his family in Santa Fe on September 4, 2016. He was homeless at the time but frequented the Pete’s Place shelter and the Rufina Street area in Santa Fe.
He was seen on surveillance video at the New Mexico Workforce Construction Office in Santa Fe between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m. on October 18, 2016. He has never been heard from again. Aguilar’s family reported him missing on December 2, 2016. His case remains unsolved.
4. West Virginia
Missing Persons Act requires medical examiners to promptly submit all available information that may aid in the identification of human remains to NamUs. The lead law-enforcement agency of a missing persons case must also ensure information is submitted “in a timely manner”.
5. North Carolina
House Bill 747 requires law enforcement agencies to enter missing or unidentified persons’ information into the national missing and unidentified persons system after thirty days have passed and the person has not been found or identified.
State law requires law enforcement to put data including fingerprints, DNA, detailed descriptions, and the date and place of death into the NamUs database within 30 days.
Michigan’s HB 4633 was signed in 2018 and requires cases to be entered into NamUs immediately, after police complete a preliminary investigation of a missing person report.
8. New York
As one of the first states to explicitly mandate the use of the NamUs database, New York has required adult cases to be entered within 30 days since 2017.
The Illinois “Missing Persons ID Act” states that the law enforcement agency, medical examiner, or coroner is required to create a record in NamUs and submit DNA samples within 30 days, if the remains are still unidentified. They also cannot refuse a missing persons report or require a delay, as long as necessary information is provided.
Close, But Not Quite
Many states use NamUs when they can or offer training, but their missing laws do not mandate it. Some cite that they do not have the support or funding to enter in the information for every case, though the NIJ does offer grants.
Montana passed Hanna’s Act in 2019, for Hanna Harris. Hanna was from Lame Deer and was murdered in 2013 on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Hanna’s Act ensures that the department of justice may assist with the investigation of all missing persons cases. It also requires cases be entered into databases “in a timely fashion”, but doesn’t stipulate NamUs as one of those databases nor an exact time period.
Although it still does not mandate the use of NamUs by law, California has been an advocate and includes NamUs in its training guidelines. The state has previously passed legislation that removed a barrier to sharing law enforcement information with the NamUs system.
“Patricia’s Law,” is named after a missing woman who left her home in 2001 and was never seen again. It ensures that police cannot refuse to accept missing persons reports and must notify the missing person’s family of support services. If the person remains missing after 30 days, police must attempt to gather DNA samples and cross-match results. Though, they are only compared to unidentified remains found in New Jersey. A similar law exists for Connecticut.
Advocate and Continue Trying
Many support a state level legislation to Help Find The Missing. To some, having one centralized database for the missing and unidentified only makes sense. Others are just not aware of what has been called our “nations silent disaster”. Reaching out to your state’s representative is a first step. A 2017 interview with Todd Matthews highlighted how Tennessee’s legislation came to be,and how to start the process for other states.
Norma Jean Fritz is hopeful that Pennsylvania will pass the Help Find The Missing Act soon. Her 29 year-old son went missing in 2015, after he made a frantic phone call about coyotes chasing him.
Missouri residents can sign the petition here.
If you or your state has interest in a similar legislation , let us know.