Inaugural 'DNA Drive' aims to provide answers for CT families of missing persons
Enfield native Michael LaRosa never got to meet his Aunt Irene, who went missing from Ellington in 1971 before he was born.
Fifty-two years later, advances in forensic technology have given his family a greater chance at a new lead.
“She was a happy-go-lucky person, from what we're told,” LaRosa said. “She loved to sing, loved music. She left the house one day and that was it. She hasn't been seen since then.”
Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy (FIGG) has resolved more than 600 cold cases nationwide since 2018.
Connecticut State Police and forensic labs hosted the event at the University of New Haven to add to that number.
“The reason why we don't get ‘hits’ is sometimes family members aren't coming forward and giving those samples,” said Michelle Clark of the Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. “In order for us to make a match, we need someone to match our DNA to.”
All it takes is one swab from a family member's cheek, which is then sent to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
The Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory says they have more than 100 unidentified remains in the state. The information gathered on Saturday can find matches across the nation.
“This is one of the most revolutionary new tools that we have in forensic investigation,” said UNH forensic science professor Dr. Claire Glynn. “Seeing that kind of joy on the family, and relief, is invaluable.”
“I've had family members tell me over the phone or in person, ‘You have no idea how the weight has been lifted off my shoulders. My loved one has been missing for over 20 or 30 years,’” Clark said.
It’s a source of hope for these families, including the LaRosa's.
“If they ever find my aunt, hopefully it will help them put a name to her,” LaRosa said. “Emotionally, it can be draining sometimes, but if you're looking for closure and looking to put a name to something, you need to have the courage to come forward and do it.”