Medical Examiner's staff work to identify unknown human remains

- A body is found with no identification; no missing persons report filed, so how do you find out who that person was? That's the job of highly skilled, highly passionate individuals who work with the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office. Their goal is to figure out all they can about that body, and hopefully get it identified and returned to their loved ones.

But every year more and more of those cases are never solved. There are over 2,000 unidentified individuals in the State of Arizona more than 200 of those are from Maricopa County, some dating back to the 1970's.

In a nondescript graveyard in Tempe lie the remains of what are classified as unidentified. That means there was no ID on these people at the time of death; no missing persons report filed, absolutely no clue as to who these people were.

"You would never want to be buried without your name without your family knowing; I couldn't imagine that. I'm very close with my family, so that's why it's so important for me to find out who these people are," said Christen Eggers.

Eggers is the unidentified descendent coordinator with the medical examiner's office. She works with a highly-trained group of individuals who work to uncover clues as to who these people may have been.

Dr. Laura Fulginiti is a forensic anthropologist at the office. "A forensic anthropologist is someone who uses the training that they have in skeletal biology to create a profile for unknown human remains," said Dr. Fulginiti.

By examining the bones, Fulginiti can determine the sex, approximate age, race, and height of a person.

Dr. John Piakas is a forensic dentist, with the teeth being very resilient, sometimes that is the only thing the investigators have to go on to help find identifiable features.

The doctors work together as a team to piece together a profile for their John or Jane Doe.

"The mystery is always there; you're always interested in the case, what the background is. Why they ended up there? And I always find myself wondering what their final moments were like. I would always have to say yes, it's always the puzzle, the puzzle you're trying to solve," said Dr. Fulginiti.

Once Fulginiti and Piakis finish their investigation, all their findings are gathered by Eggers.

"I will make sure that the full case is completed, the sketch is done, DNA collected, and all the demographic information and I will upload that to a database called Naemus," said Eggers.

The paperwork once uploaded goes into a national database. Every year the team works on an average of 500 unidentified cases. Most are solved, but every year there are 5-7 that are not, those cases end up here in Eggers office.

"When you're out here, and you see this, you understand that this is real, and you want to identify this person, you want to see a name for that individual, and to let his family know and just to provide any sort of closure you can for this individual," said Eggers.

"I want those people that have missing people to know that we have not forgotten you, and we are trying every single day to solve your problem for you," said Fulginiti.

The team remains steadfast in resolving every single case.

The Maricopa County Medical Examiners Office does reach out to the public in hopes of solving some of their unidentified people.


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