Andrew Schweighardt of the New York City Office of Chief Medical...

Andrew Schweighardt of the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner Missing Persons Unit demonstrates a process used to purify DNA during a press tour of the Charles S. Hirsch Center for Forensic Sciences in Manhattan in 2018. Credit: Charles Eckert

The New York City medical examiner will be holding its 11th annual special “Missing Persons Day” on Saturday to help families try to find relatives who have been missing for a long time.

The event, which is to take place at the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Manhattan, is open to all families in the area, including those from Long Island, who have family members or friends missing more than 60 days.

Officials said there have been thousands of missing people reported in the metropolitan area over the years, including hundreds of unidentified human remains.

Officials with the OCME said that since the first event in 2014, 30 identifications have been made of persons who went missing in the New York City metropolitan area and beyond.

Crucial for the making of identification is the giving of DNA reference samples by family members. Without such samples, it could prove extremely difficult to identify remains of missing persons recovered over the years, officials with the OCME have said.

“If families don’t come to us and give us information and DNA samples, we are never going to make an ID,” Mark Desire, a top OCME official, said in a television interview in 2022.

Colleen Fitzpatrick, an investigative genetic genealogist in California, said events like “Missing Persons Day” are vitally important to get public involvement in solving cases.

“Just getting the word out will get DNA uploads and public support,” said Fitzpatrick. “Having DNA is an important way you may have in finding [the missing].”

Desire said the office has made identifications of unidentified remains from Long Island in the past. People have flown in from Florida and Massachusetts to take part in the event, he said Wednesday.

Advances in DNA technology since the World Trade Center attack of 2001 have helped officials identify human remains which previously had been thought to be too degraded to be identified, officials said. New DNA methodology, seen in the Gilgo Beach serial killer investigation, which led to the indictment of Rex A. Heuermann in six homicides, also allows forensic experts to generate genetic profiles from rootless human hairs.

Families attending the event between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. at 421 East 26th St. (at First Avenue) can voluntarily provide OCME staff with information such as photos, personal histories — as well as DNA reference samples — to help make identifications. Families will also be able to connect with counseling services. Families are encouraged to call 212-323-1201 to make appointments.

With the increase in DNA databases nationally, it is expected that any reference samples of genetic material will first be compared to the local OCME databases of unidentified human remains, officials said. The genetic profiles can also be compared to state and national DNA databases. The latter are divided into different indexes for missing persons and unidentified remains, experts said.

A Newsday story earlier this year highlighted the number of missing persons cases in Suffolk and Nassau counties.

According to the Missing and Unidentified Persons System — NamUs — created by the U.S. Department of Justice, Suffolk County has 100 missing persons and 24 unidentified human remains, while Nassau has 41 missing and 17 unidentified remains.

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