President Now and Next

John Almendarez celebrated Father’s Day 2002 with his daughters and then vanished.

His teenage daughter Alice scoured her hometown of Houston and reported him missing to police. But her father was an adult. Maybe he wanted a new life, authorities said.

Alice never believed it. For 12 years, the mystery of his disappearance sharpened the pain of his absence.

In 2014, UNTHSC gave Alice the peace of mind she sought. The Center for Human Identification and its National Missing Persons and Unidentified Person System (NamUs) helped determine that her father had drowned in a Houston bayou. He was buried as a John Doe weeks after disappearing.

Though tragic, Alice was grateful to know the truth — and that her father did not abandon her.

Every day, the Center for Human Identification demonstrates UNTHSC’s drive to improve the human condition through a passion for teamwork and innovation. Led by Dr. Bruce Budowle, his team works tirelessly to deter human trafficking, give crime victims justice and resolution, and solve mysteries.

The Texas Legislature recently made a significant investment in UNTHSC and the Center for Human Identification with $15 million in biennium funding to enhance our efforts to address human trafficking and reduce the sexual assault kit backlog.

To accommodate this growth of services, the Center for Human Identification is hiring more people and expanding its laboratory space in the Center for BioHealth Building. The Center also is pursuing a number of important initiatives, such as:

  • Virtual reality training. Law enforcement agents, health care providers, students and community members can learn to spot the signs of human trafficking wearing virtual reality headsets recently purchased by the Center.
  • Increased education: We will take the lead in educating health providers, police and other professionals who are likely to come in contact with the estimated 300,000 exploited victims of trafficking in Texas. We will develop and test the best practices to help them.
  • A new humanitarian database: We have developed a new database to more effectively identify the remains of people who died crossing the border or may have been trafficked to Texas from Mexico and Central America.
  • Process more sexual assault kits: We will train more experts at the Texas Department of Public Safety to process sexual assault kits and expand our ability to process kits.

No other Health Science Center is home to extraordinary programs like the Center for Human Identification and its full complement of anthropology and DNA services; access to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), the national DNA database system; research productivity and management of NamUs.

These combined capabilities play vital roles in helping UNTHSC fulfill its purpose to transform lives to  improve the lives of others , such as Alice.

With appreciation,

president signature
Dr. Michael R. Williams
UNTHSC President
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