Division of Criminal Justice Services

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Center for Hope: Doug and Mary Lyall, 518-884-8761 or 518-884-8761    
DCJS: John Caher, 518-457-8415
For immediate release April 2, 2009

Relatives of missing loved ones to “bank” their DNA

Relatives of missing persons will have an opportunity to “bank” their DNA, in hopes that genetic fingerprinting will provide clues in missing person and unidentified remains cases, under a new initiative sponsored by the Center for Hope and the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).

Doug and Mary Lyall, founders of the Center for Hope, announced today that DCJS’ Office of Forensic Services has agreed to collect DNA from interested relatives during the 8th Annual Missing Persons Day, which will occur from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 5 at the New York State Cultural Education Center on Madison Avenue in Albany. Parents, children, siblings and other relatives will have an opportunity to submit a DNA sample, which will searched against a national database of unknown human remains and stored for future comparison as well.

“Several states are already submitting DNA from the relatives of missing persons to a national database, and their efforts have paid off as previously unidentified skeletal or biological remains have been identified,” Doug Lyall said. “I am very appreciative of DCJS, its Missing and Exploited Children Clearinghouse, its Office of Forensic Services and Commissioner Denise O’Donnell for agreeing to partner with us on this project.”

Mary Lyall said the opportunity to identify remains is crucial for law enforcement and families of missing individuals.

“If authorities know the identity of a deceased individual they have a much better chance of putting together pieces of the puzzle and solving a missing person case,” Mrs. Lyall said. “Equally important, the link brings a measure of closure to families who do not know if their one loved is living or deceased.”

Under the initiative, interested relatives who attend the Missing Persons Day ceremony will have the opportunity to submit a DNA sample through a quick and  painless cheek swab. A private room will be available for sample collection and completion of necessary paperwork.

Both nuclear DNA – which comes from the cell nucleus and is inherited from both parents – and mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from the mother, will be analyzed. Mitochondrial DNA is not as powerful of an identification tool as nuclear DNA, but it is more durable and can often be detected in very small or damaged samples. The most useful family reference DNA samples are from close relatives, such as the mother, father, children and siblings. However, the DNA of other blood relatives, such as aunts and uncles, could also prove valuable.

The DNA sample will be submitted to a federal databank and used solely for investigative purposes related to a missing or unidentified person case. DCJS will make arrangements statewide to collect DNA from family members who are unable to attend the event on Sunday.

“Missing Persons Day” will provide an opportunity for families and friends to, remember and honor the nearly 3,500 missing persons in New York State and the over 100,000 missing throughout the country. Families, friends and missing person organizations from New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maryland, as well as political leaders, teachers, neighbors, police officers, and others affected by an unexplained disappearance of a loved one will be in attendance.

Among those expected to participate in the ceremony are Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco and the Lyalls, whose daughter has been missing since 1998. Todd Matthews of the Doe Network, a national organization that seeks to put names on the Jane and John Does who remain unidentified, will deliver the keynote address at approximately 2:15 p.m. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will receive the annual HOPE (Healing Our Painful Emotions) Award, but is not able to attend.

For more information about the Center for Hope, visit its website at: www.hope4themissing.org.

DCJS is a multi-function criminal justice support agency with a variety of responsibilities, including collection and analysis of statewide crime data; operation of the DNA databank and criminal fingerprint files; administration of federal and state criminal justice funds; and support of criminal justice-related agencies across the state.