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Florida police nab 2007 rape suspect using public genealogy databases

“If it wasn’t for this technology, I’m not sure we’d be here today," a special agent working on the case said.

An unsolved rape of a University of Tampa student was cracked this month when police in Florida used public genealogy databases to connect the suspect’s DNA to the 2007 case, authorities said.

Jared T. Vaughn, 44, now stands accused of raping a female student on Jan. 27, 2007, Tampa police said. Vaughn, who turned himself in to a Tampa jail on June 16 on a charge of sexual battery, was identified as the rape suspect with a mathematical probability of “1 in 700 billion,” said Ruben Delgado, assistant police chief with Tampa police.

“It has taken 14 years for resolution in this case, but it is something that was important for us, something important for the victim, that we put some closure to this case,” Delgado announced June 22 during a news conference.

The Washington Post reported the student encountered a stranger who offered to walk her to her dorm.

The suspect fled when the student’s roommate returned to the dorm, according to WTVT in Tampa.

"[The roommate] described the male as appearing shocked and nervous as if he did not expect someone to arrive at the apartment," a police report noted, according to WTVT. "She went into the bathroom with the victim and closed the door, and never saw the male again."

Vaughn did not immediately return NBC News' request for comment. Vaughn's attorney, Brett Metcalf, declined comment Tuesday.

In March 2020, detectives re-examined the case to potentially use public genealogy databases, police said. Tampa police partnered with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, commonly called FDLE, which utilizes Parabon NanoLabs to search genealogy databases.

Parabon Nanolabs combed through records of GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA, police said, and identified Vaughn as a possible suspect this past March.

Mark Brutnell, a special agent in charge with FDLE, said at a press conference that investigators only utilize public DNA databases as a “last resort.”

“Every other investigative lead has to be exhausted before we do this type of process,” he said. “If it wasn’t for this technology, I’m not sure we’d be here today.”

Detectives also used “old-school police work,” Brutnell said, such as gathering DNA in the original case in 2007, conducting interviews and performing surveillance, to sew the case up.

Once Vaughn was identified, investigators obtained a DNA search warrant; worked with a detective in Parkersburg, West Virginia; and collected DNA from Vaughn via buccal swabs on May 5, police said. Eight days later, Vaughn was identified as the rape suspect.

Detectives are only allowed to legally obtain DNA through public genealogy databases if customers using those databases consent, Brutnell said.