OKLAHOMA - Families and law enforcement agencies were warned last November it could happen, and it has now become a reality.
A national grant for cold case funding has been cut.
The grant is through the National Institute of Justice and is called Using DNA Technology To Identify the Missing.
It provided $4.7 million for the entire country and has been in existence since 2004 and in use at the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification.
That is the lab that provided the DNA testing for all of Oklahoma’s unidentified human remains.
But, this week, the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office was notified the lab will no longer accept out of state samples, because the grant is not being offered any more.
“I cried. I took a lunch break and went to the park and cried. I did. Because, it affects me so profoundly,” said Carla Eastep.
Eastep’s son, Tommy, has been missing for more than three and a half years.
She knew, if someday skeletal remains were discovered, they could be sent to the lab at UNT to see if they might be Tommy’s.
That’s not an option any more.
“This just makes you feel so hopeless. And, if we don’t have this funding available to us, how will we ever find our missing loved ones?” Eastep said.
“By losing this grant, we’re taking away not only the hope for the families but hope of resolving these cases for the medical examiner’s office, and maybe for law enforcement resolving a cold case and maybe seeking justice,” said Angela Berg, an anthropologist with the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office.
Berg said the grant has helped identify dozens of missing people including six people pulled from the bottom of Foss Lake in their cars in 2013, and two Oklahoma City women and one girl found buried in a field in Jennings, Oklahoma, also in 2013.
“We don’t have labs in Oklahoma that can provide that service. So, unfortunately, we’re going to go back to a system that’s, I don’t want to say antiquated, but there’s certainly better technologies,” Berg said.
Eastep said they might have lost this round but she will continue fighting for funding that helps bring the missing back home.
“I intend to see this through the end though. So, whatever I can do to help not only my family but other families, I’m willing to do,” Eastep said.
In the letter sent to the ME’s office from UNT, they told them they are working with NIJ and other avenues towards a resolution.