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'Missing In Florida Day' Aims To Help Families Find Answers

Dec 1, 2016

According to law enforcement figures, there are more than 3,200 missing persons reported in Florida and over 84,000 nationwide. But those numbers are likely low estimates because cases are either unreported, mishandled or mistakenly closed.

Now, University of South Florida forensic investigators are teaming up with law enforcement to raise awareness of missing and unidentified persons cases.

"Missing in Florida Day" is modeled after similar events held in other states that have led to positive identifications.

Members of the Florida Institute of Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science at USF will be joined by representatives from two dozen law enforcement agencies, medical examiners and other groups from across the state on the Tampa campus.

USF forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle says families of missing persons are invited to meet with law enforcement. The hope is the event will solve open cases and re-open cases that may have been erroneously closed.

"Some of the cases are decades old where they may have gone to authorities, but unless there was clear evidence that there was a crime committed, you know, as adults we have the right to not talk to family or travel where we want, and I think people have fallen through the cracks as a result," Kimmerle said.

Work by Kimmerle's team has already accounted for the identification of multiple missing persons across the country.

Jeff Peake is a Major with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, one of the agencies taking part in the event.

"Often we don't have a crime scene, these kind of things to investigate or to determine when they went missing, how they went missing," Peake said. "So these cases are very difficult and we need family, friends, anybody that can offer a piece of information about the case just to get us started."

"Missing in Florida Day" will be held at the Marshall Student Center on the Tampa campus Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will also include safety and prevention information, as well as demonstrations of some of the methods investigators use.