In February 2010, I attended a conference hosted by Fox Valley Technical College “Responding to Missing and Unidentified Persons.” It was one of the most relevant training sessions I’ve ever experienced and a true eye-opener.
FVTC is a leader in the field of missing persons investigations. This innovative, jam-packed annual conference offers an incomparable array of opportunities for police, medical examiners and other professionals to confront the challenges of searching for missing persons and identifying recovered human remains.
It also brings law enforcement into contact with the families of the missing, something helpful to both officials and the communities they serve. By opening a dialogue between the two factions, it creates a much better atmosphere in which to get down to work, and can lead to both increased mutual respect and better understanding.
At last year’s conference, I heard Ed Smart, the father of Elizabeth Smart, give an engrossing talk about his family’s ordeal. Mr. Smart’s keynote address offered insight into both the emotional aspects of having a child abducted, as well as some keen observations about what police did right — and not so well.
Others: Bill Kruziki, a former sheriff and federal marshal whose son tragically disappeared; P. Michael Murphy, coroner for Clark County, Nev., which is home to the thriving City of Las Vegas; Todd Matthews of The Doe Network and NamUs; Dr. Arthur Eisenberg of the University of North Texas, who led the team that identified those who perished in the attacks of 9/11; and the articulate and knowledgeable Judge Mark McGinnis — were also there to educate and enlighten. The hardest part of the conference was trying to decide what breakout sessions to attend — they were all excellent.
The upcoming conference, which is to be held in Appleton, Wis., at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel on Feb. 22-24, features an excellent potential line-up. Beth Holloway is the keynote speaker. Her daughter, Natalee, disappeared on a post-graduation trip to Aruba, and Beth has proven an outspoken advocate for her daughter and the rights of the missing. Also on the schedule are Dr. Emily Craig from the Kentucky State Medical Examiner’s Office, Sgt. Jon Mattsen, one of the investigators involved in uncovering the identity of the Green River Killer, and the parents of Morgan Harrington, a college student who was abducted following a concert.
Other sessions will address cold case investigations, using the Internet to search for missing persons, issues that impede these investigations, legal concerns, and a look at the initiatives launched by the National Institute of Justice.
There’s more — much more. And all of it is relevant, timely and pertinent. And believe it or not, even in these hard times, this conference is affordable. Registration for the entire event is only about $200. The hotel is about the cheapest I’ve seen (for those who make their reservation before Feb. 1, it’s only $70 a night plus taxes and quite comfortable — even the hotel restaurants have inexpensive, great food).
I believe that missing persons and unidentified recovered remains are two of the most commonly neglected, misunderstood investigations in law enforcement, yet the potential impact that doing a better job in these instances can have on your solve rate and the people most affected by these situations — the families — is incalculable. If your department sends officers to only one conference this year, this is the one you should consider. In fact, I think it’s a great conference for agency heads. It will give you something to think about.
For more information, download the conference brochure at www.fvtc.edu/missing. Additionally, you can e-mail Barbara Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 920-735-4818.