State police will soon be required to turn over DNA samples of missing persons and unidentified decedents to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS), thanks to two state representatives.
State Rep. Lynda Culver, of Sunbury, and state Rep. Dave Millard, of Columbia County, have been working on House Bill 930 for the past two years. On Wednesday the House passed it unanimously, requiring the Pennsylvania State Police to turn over DNA samples of missing persons and unidentified decedents to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS), a nationwide clearinghouse that went online in 2008.
NamUS, which is funded by the Department of Justice, in Washington, has expanded over the course of the last 10 years by linking with other national databases and collaborated with the FBI in 2012 to add a fingerprint unit to its search capability.
Culver who initiated the House Bill said there are 400 cases where investigators are still looking for answers to the disappearances.
Culver spoke with NamUS officials more than two years ago about local cases, including Barbara Miller, 30, of Sunbury, who went missing in 1989 and was declared legally dead by Northumberland County President Judge Charles Saylor in 2002. Miller was entered into NamUS in 2017.
Miller’s investigation is being handled by the state Attorney General’s Office, who decline comment on any investigations. The office will neither confirm nor deny any active investigations.
“Rep. Millard and I both have a cold case in our district, which is the reason we became interested in the issue,” Culver said. “House Bill 930 would give law enforcement another tool in the effort to bring some level of closure to the loved ones of these missing individuals.”
The bill will now go to the Senate for final approval.
“If House Bill 930 becomes law, Pennsylvania would become only the 11th state where this requirement would be made of state law enforcement,” Millard said. “NamUS is also unique compared to other databases because family members of missing persons can access it free of charge through a confidentiality program, allowing them to contribute directly to investigations and making them active participants in the search as a way to help them keep alive the memory of their loved one.”
Former state trooper Cpl. Shawn Williams, who is now the Shikellamy School District police chief, has been part of NamUS for the past 10 years.
Williams said he was thrilled to hear the bill was passed.
“This is another step in the right direction for law enforcement,” Williams said. “I have been part of cases where NamUS has connected the dots, so this is a big day for law enforcement and I am very thankful to Reps. Culver and Millard. There is nothing any law enforcement officer wants then to be able to tell the victim’s families what happened or be able to give them some sort of closure.”
Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Matulewicz said he is also pleased the Bill passed the House.
“This is another tool for law enforcement,” he said. “Law enforcement needs to keep up with science and science is increasingly becoming more involved in cases and we need to keep ahead. DNA is the ultimate deterrent because the criminal cannot account for a distant relative.”