Understanding how the Medical Examiner links bones to the identities of missing persons

PHOENIX - The Maricopa County Medical Examiners office identified human remains found last weekend as a Mesa woman whose been missing since 2009.

The Medical Examiners office linked the remains to 20-year-old Jenika Feuerstein.

Linking human remains to an identity is an important part to bringing closure to a lot of these cases. It takes a detailed approach and carefully calculated process to make sure it's done correctly.

Dr. Greg Hess, the Chief Medical Examiner in Pima County, says there are "a lot of horrific stories behind these things," referring to finding human remains in general.

Discovering the answers is like analyzing each piece to a puzzle.

"You want to make sure you have it right," he said. "It always feels good identifying unidentified remains especially when family members are looking for them. Because it provides closure."

And each part of the body indicates something different.

"Is the skull shape consistent with a Native American or an African American?" said Hess.

Even looking at the teeth gets anthropologists one step closer in finding an identity.

“We have someone that was missing this tooth in life. So what our anthropology staff is doing is building a profile," he said.

A profile that's supported by DNA samples taken from the bones.

One the Medical Examiners has an idea of the age, race, gender, height and genetic make up of the remains, they are sent to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NAMUS, to look for a potential match.

The system searches through thousands of profiles.

According to the database, all the records immediately available for Feuerstein were dental records, which is what Maricopa County’s ME office most likely used to ID her remains.

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