New Texas legislation serving to households on the lookout for lacking family members

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Alice Almendarez’s coronary heart is heavy.

Alice Almendarez at a latest Missing in Harris County Day. (Courtesy: Alice Almendarez)

She’s ready herself for days to face households who’ve handled related loss.

“It’s hard to attend these events, but I do it because I know what it feels like to be in their shoes,” Almendarez defined. “My dad being missing, and you know, I felt… like he didn’t matter… he was just like vanished off the face of the earth.”

Almendarez now advocates for households with lacking and unidentified family members.

At a latest Missing in Harris County Day in Houston, she helped households attending navigate their seek for lacking family members.

“They asked me…’What do I think the most important step is? What would I recommend for everyone,’ and I said it was NamUs, make sure your loved one is on NamUs,” Almendarez mentioned. 

‘John and Joseph’s Law’

In Texas now, John and Joseph’s Law requires legislation enforcement companies, justices of the peace and health workers within the state to make use of NamUs, a nationwide database to resolve lacking and unidentified individuals circumstances. 

The legislation went into impact final September. 

NamUs which is brief for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System was created to assist investigators and households remedy circumstances by coming into forensic particulars into the database. 

The legislation is called after Almendarez’s father, John, and Joseph Fritts, each from Houston, who have been lacking. Their households defined to KXAN investigators that NamUs helped them discover closure. 

‘John and Joseph’s Law’ went into impact final September. (Courtesy: Alice Almendarez)

“They are part of the club that they never wanted to be a part of. And they are the only ones who know what the other families like them are, are going through,” defined State Rep. Lacey Hull, R-Houston. 

She labored intently with the Almendarez and Fritts households to get the legislation handed final session.

Hull joined each households on the Missing in Harris County Day and talked in regards to the influence of the brand new legislation.  

“We have seen an uptick in law enforcement agencies and medical examiners, and people are reporting more in Texas,” Hull mentioned. “So, it is working.” 

Cases entered spike after legislation goes into impact

In 2020, earlier than the legislation handed, 106 NamUs lacking individuals circumstances have been created throughout the state. Last September, after the legislation went into impact, the circumstances entered greater than doubled to 221 in Texas. So far this 12 months, 191 Texas circumstances have been created. 

For unidentified our bodies in 2020, 58 circumstances have been created within the database throughout the state. After the legislation handed, 33 circumstances have been created. So far in 2022, 60 circumstances have been entered into NamUs.

Unclaimed individuals circumstances didn’t see a lot of a change. Last 12 months, 21 circumstances have been created. So far this 12 months, 24 circumstances have been entered into the database. 

Rep. Lacey Hull, (R) Houston, attending a latest Missing in Harris County Day in Houston. (Courtesy: Alice Almendarez)

“This is the step that was missing. This is what’s going to help so many families and it’s also going to help you know our local authorities like solve these cases faster,” Almendarez mentioned. 

Hull has heard from these concerned about some gaps within the reporting to NamUs of people that have handed however usually are not recognized. She is trying to file extra laws subsequent session which begins in January. 

“Part of the gap in the data for these unidentified bodies that we’re looking at is for people who have passed away from natural causes, and so they would not be investigated by law enforcement. And so, there’s a gap of them—the unidentified remains being reported,” mentioned Hull. 

Push for NamUs to go nationwide

NamUs is federally funded so there’s no price to make use of the database.

It was headquartered in Fort Worth, however now it’s managed by a analysis institute in North Carolina.

Texas is now amongst 12 states to cross legal guidelines mandating using NamUs. 

Almendarez is now pushing for it to be nationwide. 

“It’s never going to work if we don’t have every law enforcement agency and medical examiner entering these cases into NamUs. It’s one uniform database, one central database that we can all use,” Almendarez defined. 

She has began contacting lawmakers and is hoping to get a nationwide motion going this 12 months.

“I don’t ever want anyone to have to go through that longer than they have to,” Almendarez mentioned. “The people that are missing – the faces of the missing – the moms of the missing, the dads, they’re the drive behind that and the force behind me because I don’t want them to continue to live this nightmare.”

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