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We’re Not Doing Good Enough- Pat Viola: Eleven Years Later

September 13, 2012

A few nights ago I had a terrifying nightmare. In my dream, my two daughters were young again. In the dream they were abducted. I was frantic to find them. I woke up in tears. The dream was so disturbing I could not fall back to sleep for three hours. The terror I felt in the dream was real and totally draining. Even after I woke up and knew my daughters were grown and in their own homes, safe and sound, the feeling stayed with me a long time. I cannot imagine what it feels like to live with this feeling every single moment of someone’s life. I am lucky; I can wake up from a nightmare. The families of the missing can’t.

On February 13, 2001, Patricia Viola disappeared from her Bogota, New Jersey home. Literally, she was gone without a trace. She had volunteered at her son’s school that morning, came home, returned a call from her mother and then vanished. Her husband, Jim, arrived home at 4:30 in the afternoon to find the house alarm set, his wife’s purse, cell phone and necessary medications on the counter but no sign of his wife. That story is bad enough. Jim has spent eleven years tirelessly looking for his wife. He put up fliers, hired a private investigator, maintained a website and was featured on TV shows. He spent every single moment of those eleven years living a nightmare, a nightmare that those of us who don’t know what it is like to have a missing spouse can’t even begin to imagine. He raised his two young children by himself. He also found time to become an advocate for all the missing. He was responsible for New Jersey’s “Patricia’s Law” which requires the collection of DNA from any missing person reported missing longer than 30 days.

But what Jim didn’t know, as he was hoping, praying, living that nightmare, that seventeen months after his wife went missing, a dog walker discovered his wife’s shoe, with a bit of bone fragment, on a Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York. It took THREE YEARS for the medical examiner’s office in New York City to extract a DNA sample. The remains were then buried in Potter’s Field on Hart Island in Long Island Sound.

Ok, I get it, after 9/11/01, the office was flooded with bone fragments that needed DNA samples taken. But it took FOUR MORE YEARS for that sample to be sent for testing.

Can you imagine, while you are out searching, your loved one’s remains are sitting in the medical examiner’s storage locker and later buried anonymously in Potter’s Field? I don’t want to blame anyone. I do believe that each individual does the best he/she can. But it’s not good enough. The system of identifying remains is not good enough. Families cannot wait three, four five years, a decade to get answers or in a worst case scenario, never, to get answers.  What good is technology if we aren’t using it?

I also get that DNA and other types of testing is expensive. However, the first step we have to take is to accept that the number of missing in this country is epidemic. By recognizing the sheer number of missing and declaring it an epidemic, federal agencies could be formed and federal funds used to end this epidemic. This epidemic is not a state problem. In every corner of our country people are missing, remains are languishing in medical examiners offices or buried in unmarked graves. Every missing person deserves a thorough investigation. Every unidentified person needs to be identified. We need laws that require thorough investigations. We need laws that concern the testing of unidentified remains. It’s not good enough, yet.

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From → The Missing

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