To find Jacob -- Coming Full Circle

When Theresa Freitas of Haines City, Florida, talks about her son, Jacob Whitt, she sounds like any other proud parent. Jacob, a gangly, rail-thin young man edging quietly into adulthood, moved to Texas one steamy August day in 1997. An avid reader with a...

The identification came because California authorities uploaded Vincent’s DNA profile into the California database, while Washington authorities saw to it that samples from Vincent’s family were sent to UNTCHI. The upshot was a cross-state cold case hit.

For Theresa Freitas and her family, UNTCHI made another difficult match. Based on a comparison of the familial DNA for which Theresa pushed so hard, and DNA uploaded from a John Doe whose body was found months after the disappearance of her son, she finally found her Jacob.

Theresa says when she picked up the phone on June 26, 2010, she was unprepared for the voice that told her, without preamble or even identifying himself, “We found Jacob.” The call was from the investigating agency that handled Jacob’s disappearance.

Jacob’s body had been found in September of 1998, in a remote wooded area in a county adjacent to the one where he went missing. His skeletal remains were stuffed inside a sleeping bag and Jacob had been shot once in the head — a death the attending medical examiner ruled a suicide. Theresa doesn’t believe her son killed himself and is working to have his body exhumed and reexamined, then returned to his home for reburial.

But for 12 long years, Jacob rested in a grave a few miles from the county line where he was listed as a missing person and no one knew it until a DNA match identified him. Theresa, who gave a buccal DNA sample in 2008, says, “I had been begging for years for someone to take my DNA and kept getting brushed off. Finally, I got someone’s attention.” Giving the sample was a simple matter of obtaining a swab from the inside of her mouth and sending it to UNTCHI.

“I’ve been told they entered Jacob’s DNA in July 2009, “ she says. Jacob was found through a cold hit. “I can’t tell you how it feels to have been searching for my son only to find he’d already been buried.”

Theresa admits it’s difficult knowing her son’s body had been located more than a decade ago, but no one looked for him beyond the boundaries of the county in which he disappeared. She points to the ease, simplicity and certainty of DNA evidence.

“I don’t know why everyone doesn’t use it. (UNTCHI) does all of the work and it doesn’t cost the department anything. Why would you not want to take advantage of it?” she asks.

What would she, the mother of a missing man, like to see happen with the way law enforcement approaches these cases?

“I’d like the mindset changed a little bit. This is not 1920; it’s 2011. They have the tools to find out where these people are, to find someone’s loved one and spare them what I’ve been through.”

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