NamUs’ voice of compassion and competence
The calls come in every week from family members who are scared, grief-stricken or simply searching for clues about the disappearance of their loved ones.
Fortunately, the voice on the other end of the line is one of compassion and competence. It often belongs to Ruth Rodriguez-Dunnahoo with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a national clearinghouse for missing person cases, unidentified victims, unidentified living individuals and unclaimed bodies.
“Some families are very afraid, some are desperate and many just don’t know what to do,” Rodriguez-Dunnahoo said. “I always try to put myself in their situation. How would I want to be talked to? How would I want people to explain things to me? I try to help them as much as possible, because I know that’s what I would want.”
Rodriguez-Dunnahoo’s empathetic approach has been a comfort to countless families. She stayed on the phone for more than an hour with a father whose son had disappeared following a struggle with mental illness. “I think he just wanted to talk to someone,” she said.
An Oklahoma woman whose deceased son eventually was identified with NamUs assistance calls every year around the anniversary of the identification to say thanks and to reconnect.
“She tells me how happy she was about the identification, and how sad at the same time,” Rodriguez-Dunnahoo said. “All these missing people we try to help find and identify – somebody loves them. They are all somebody’s son or daughter.”
Rodriguez-Dunnahoo is a critical resource. She connects families with appropriate law enforcement agencies, consulate offices or embassies. She talks them through using the NamUs website. Or she advises them on the information they need to use the NamUs database, which receives funding and oversight from the National Institute of Justice and is housed and managed at UNT Health Science Center.
In many ways, NamUs is a perfect fit at UNTHSC, which runs a crime laboratory set in a graduate school for scientists and health care professionals. UNTHSC trains students in forensics and the use of DNA technologies to help solve crimes and identify the missing and unidentified.
“Patience and compassion go a long way,” she said. “These families need our help.”