An Oregon law that went into effect in January pushes investigators to collect DNA and other potentially valuable evidence early in every missing-person case.
"This has changed the way missing-person cases are handled," Jackson County Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan said.
The law outlines an aggressive set of questions investigators must answer early in any missing-person investigation so they have details that will be useful in finding and identifying the person. It then requires increased cooperation and information sharing among agencies.
It also requires the collection of DNA from evidence the person might have left behind or from family members. That DNA evidence must be submitted to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification for inclusion in a national database.
Investigators are using those same tools in hopes of identifying a toddler found in Keene Creek Reservoir 45 years ago.
Fagan said the sheriff's department handles about 100 missing-person cases each year and only a few remain open. Most of the current cases that remain unsolved lacked an early aggressive effort by investigators.
"Kaelin Glazier is a good example," Fagan said.
The 1996 investigation into the missing teen whose remains were discovered this spring got off to a slow start because investigators didn't know whether she had run away or met with foul play, he said. He added that the case is moving forward now with a person of interest identified and prosecutors reviewing evidence.
"Now we are funded to make every missing person a priority, from the search-and-rescue effort to criminal background checks" that start immediately, Fagan said.
The new law was proposed in honor of Miranda Gaddis and Ashley Pond, two Oregon City girls who disappeared in 2002 and were later found to have been murdered by a neighbor.