CT scans and computer modeling allow for faster facial reconstructions to expedite missing persons cases.
For more than two decades, Coroner Del Atwood Jr. has been haunted by the discovery of human remains at the base of Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains. This was someone’s child. But whose? He turned to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), one of only several places in the world that performs computerized skull reconstructions. Perhaps someone there could help identify “Baby Doe.”
Deer hunters discovered the partial skull in 1988, tightly wedged in the crevice of a large rock. Because of the position of the skull and other remains, the child’s death appeared to be a homicide. Despite a thorough investigation, the child’s identity remained a mystery. Baby Doe was buried in an unmarked grave. Then in 2009 new information emerged about two missing children, and a judge gave permission for the remains to be exhumed. Atwood launched a coroner’s inquest.
Atwood, the longtime Big Horn County coroner, said a task force was formed and more testing was initiated on the remains. Learning that NCMEC has had success with skull reconstructions, the coroner carefully packaged the fragile skull and sent it to the nonprofit organization’s headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.
Most skull reconstructions performed by the center’s Forensic Imaging Unit have been done the traditional way, placing clay directly on the skull to rebuild the face. So far, eight of those 68 clay faces have been recognized, providing answers to their families. About five years ago, the four-person unit, which also performs thousands of age progressions on missing children, began exclusively doing computerized skull reconstructions.