Washington commits $500K to clear backlog of unidentified remains

Washington has committed half a million dollars to fund genealogy testing for all unidentified remains in the state.

The State Legislature approved a budget request from the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force (MMIWP), asking for $500,000 to clear the state’s backlog of unidentified remains.

According to the AGO, 163 remains are unidentified and in need of further testing.

The delays in identifying remains are almost entirely due to a lack of funding. The AGO says testing individual remains costs approximately $2,500, and forensic genetic genealogy costs around $8,000.

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A report published by the AGO and MMIWP in Dec. 2023 concluded that, among other solutions, the Legislature needed to fully fund efforts to clear the state’s backlog of remains. The AGO says these new funds will supplement existing DNA testing resources.

"Timely DNA testing can bring a measure of closure and help solve more cold cases," said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. "Families should never have to endure unnecessary delays when seeking answers about their missing loved ones. I am thankful to our partners in the Legislature — Rep. Lekanoff, Rep. Stearns and Sen. Kauffman and many others — who continue to fight to ensure the missing and murdered Indigenous people crisis gets the attention and resources it deserves."

Part of the task force’s recommendation was informed by the experience of member Patricia Whitefoot, who was forced to wait 14 years for the remains of her sister, Daisy Mae Heath, to be identified.

"I’m pleased the Washington State Attorney General’s Office heard the voices of families in our pursuit to know the status of unidentified remains," said Whitefoot. "I was reminded of these remains whenever our family received an inquiry about unidentified remains, since my sister, Daisy Heath, had been missing over 30 years. Because of our sister, I found myself motivated and compelled to promote needed resolution about the remains with the task force. Our family wondered about the status of our sister for far too long."

A similar funding effort allowed Washington to clear its backlog of more than 10,000 sexual assault kits in 2023. When FOX 13 News visited the Vancouver Crime Lab some months prior, the human-robotics team said they were able to work through the backlog while still keeping pace with the new kits coming in.