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"The Doe Network" : International Center for Unidentified & Missing Persons
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Doe Network : "Controversy Over Using Autopsy Photos"

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Before The Doe Network, finding good web sites with information on unidentified remains was a very trying task. Those with missing loved ones would often wonder if their family member was lying among the ranks of the unidentified, but there wasn't much more they could do. There wasn't a place that one could go to search and look for a familiar face. The Doe Network changed all that, making a home for all those lost faces, and bringing closure to many families. Now, many corone's offices and State Police websites around the country and abroad, are following suit.
Recently, The Clark County Coroner's office in Nevada released a comprehensive site with information on most of their 180 unidentified bodies. Of that, approximately 40 contain actual facial photos of the victims. This site was inspired by The Doe Network's efforts.
Todd Matthews recently interviewed for a series of newspaper articles about Clark County's new site, and the controversy that is brewing across the country regarding the use of "clean" autopsy photos to identify victims. Clark County, unlike The Doe Network, is using a clean version of the facial autopsy photo in some of the cases in hope that the victim will be easily recognized. Several agencies across the country disagree with this practice, believing that it is infringing on the rights of the victims' families. My question to that is simple. If the photos weren't out there, would a family even know it was their loved one? How can someone possibly feel like you're causing any damage by helping them find out what happened to their lost loved one?
While the use of actual autopsy photos will remain controversial, the use of reconstructions is more widely accepted. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children uses computerized, retouched photos of the victims face on most cases. Most State Police agencies use drawings or sketches of the victims, while some others use a clay sculpture of the face. Any of these options go one step further in the process of getting someone identified. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Our hope is that more coroners' offices and law enforcement agencies will take notice and move forward to help us get these cases out to the public. They will never be recognized if someone doesn't see them. Even though we have so many, The Doe Network doesn't even have a fraction of the actual unidentified victims that are out there. New Jersey, for example, is said to have a few hundred cases. The State Police website has about 20 cases, and we have few more.
Regarding the issue of trauma for the family who may view a photo or reconstruction of their loved one online, Las Vegas Detective John Williams says this, regarding an unidentified teenage female that he has been working on for almost 25 years: "If you look on TV, you'll see worse than what you see in this photo of my girl. If it were my daughter, I'd definitely feel bad to see a picture of her dead. But it would not bother me if someone saw it on the Internet or TV to give me some closure and my family some closure. I'm sure things will offend people, but so be it. You got a young kid, dumped in the desert. That's more offensive." I agree.

Author: Dana Gonzalez


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