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NamUs: Where missing people can be found

A national registry lets people scan records and search for information that could help solve heartbreaking mysteries of missing and unidentified persons.
/ Source: NBC News

There is a place where the lost can be found.

Long before Lisa Irwin vanished from her Kansas City home, there was another desperate search in Missouri for a little girl. Her name was Elizabeth Gill. On the afternoon of June 13, 1965, Elizabeth was in her family's front yard in Cape Giradreau. It was the last time the 2-year-old was seen alive.

Scott Kleeschulte also disappeared in Missouri. On June 18, 1988, the 9-year-old freckled face boy was walking down a street in St. Charles County. To this day, nobody knows what happened to him.

The three cases, separated by decades, share a common bond with thousands of other files accessible to the public on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System website.

Known as NamUs, the vast national registry lets relatives, law enforcement, victim's rights advocates, and anyone scan the records and search for information that could help solve these heartbreaking mysteries.

NamUs, which is run by the National Forensic Science Technology Center, is under the direction of the National Institute of Justice.

“We know that NamUs could really be the key to making a difference in the lives of families that have been waiting and waiting to find missing loved ones,” said Kristina Rose, deputy director of the National Institute of Justice

There are more than 8,800 total missing persons cases on NamUs, of which 75 percent remain open, including one that goes back to the Great Depression.

'Really cold cases'
Joseph Lawrence Halpern was 22 on Aug. 14, 1933. That was the day he disappeared while hiking in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. The NamUs website indicates Halpern was wearing a light blue shirt, brown trousers and was carrying an army backpack.

“Many are really cold cases,” Rose told NBC News, “but the more people you have looking at them and make the connection and build bridges to share information, the chances become much higher in solving those cases.”

There are many familiar names in the NamUs system, names like Lauren Spierer, the Indiana University student who vanished last June. The case of Etan Patz, who was the first missing child to appear on a milk box, is also detailed in the database.

“Etan was last seen at 8:00 a.m. at Prince and Wooster Streets going to the school bus stop,” the NamUs information indicated. “He was wearing a black cap, a blue corduroy jacket, blue pants, blue sneakers, and carrying a blue bag with elephants on it.”

NamUs said it has helped solve 62 missing and unidentified person cases, including that of Paula Davis.

“She went missing in 1987 out of Kansas City, Missouri and 14 hours later a body was found in Ohio,” Rose said.

In 2009, after watching a public service announcement for NamUs, Davis’ sister searched the database and ultimately determined that the body discovered in Ohio was that of Paula Davis.

NamUs gave her an answer. But many other families are still waiting for one, including that of Jamie Peterson.

The 30-year-old Pittsburgh mother was home Sept. 26 when her children went to school. When they returned in the afternoon, Peterson was gone.

Her file, #12519, was entered into NamUs last week.

“I think there’s always hope,” Rose said, “and that’s what NamUs does, it gives people hope that these cases will be solved.”