Guest opinion: Time for us to take role in finding missing persons

In recent issues of a newsletter I produce about Sequim City Council news, I have included areas that I have been working on for Sequim such as workforce housing, street maintenance and recruitment of living wage jobs. I think these are on top of just about every councilors/mayors list. For me, there is something else that I have personally prioritized on my list, assisting in identification of forensics and unidentified/missing persons.

We as a society seem to be infatuated with serial killers and their crimes. Whether they are real, such as the Green River Killer, or created, like Jason from the Friday the 13th movies, these criminal types of people are visible to us everywhere we look: television, music, podcasts, movies, posters, forums, etc.

We don’t, however, really receive more than a passing glance at the victims in these cases. Sometimes, the victims are identified, but there is a massive backlog of unidentified and missing people not counted for, particularly among the tribal nations. These are the Jane and John Does. While not all of these people were murdered, they remain unidentified none the less.

At the time of this writing, the NamUs website lists 13,634 people as unidentified. The outlying stats are approximately reported as 20,202 missing persons, and the possibly 10,826 unclaimed persons, with the numbers reported changing daily. These people are someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, grandparent, wife, husband, friend and above all, a human being. These are people that need justice, who are missed by their loved ones that need closure. These are people who need their name back, and to come home.

So, what does this have to do with Sequim? I don’t have any family members, or know of anyone, who has gone missing, or remains unidentified, but this still speaks to me as purposeful work. We are dealing with people, and it behooves all of us to play a part in this. By analyzing and processing forensic data and samples, there is potential to identify these individuals, and lead to justice, which in turn contributes to a safer society. For the victim or the family of the individual victim, it can lead to healing and closure.

I have been thinking for a while now, what part, if any, can the city play in this? I have been working with Peggy Simmons, operations manager with the Clallam County Economic Development Council (EDC), to explore the potential of recruiting a private lab that specializes in forensics and the identification of missing and unidentified individuals.

There are quite a few private labs that have been contacted to gauge their interest in locating a branch in Sequim. NamUs is also looking to relocate some of their work contract, and a multi-million-dollar Department of Justice grant along with it.

We have looked, and are still looking, at this possibility. These labs can bring living wage jobs to Sequim. We have thought about partnerships with the local schools. The ideas are endless.

We also continue to push for a state crime lab. The city passed a resolution calling on the state to fully fund the state’s crime labs. Sequim could be home to a regional lab. The work that Peggy has put into this idea is above and beyond what anyone could ask.

This article may be about those that are unidentified, but we need to remember those who are still alive, or identified, and are looking for justice. It is no secret that the backlog of rape/assault kits that need to be processed is staggering. These delays also affect DNA processing, and other evidence that needs to be processed in the name of justice.

How long does a victim of sexual assault need to wait? Even a day more is unacceptable. It is generally no fault of the police, or those running the tests, but a lack of availability of labs and workforce to process the evidence.

This frustrates citizens and police alike, and makes it seem like nothing is being done, as though the wheels of justice have stopped turning.

An example is the Valerie Claplanhoo case. Ms. Claplanhoo was found murdered in Sequim on Jan. 2, 2019. Here we are, more than two years later, with no closure. It is of no fault to the Sequim Police Department. It’s the waiting game on getting back results.

I continue to speak with Chief Sherri Crain about this case. While she cannot go into detail because of the case’s sensitive nature, she assures me it is not “cold.” The outstanding officers in the Sequim Police Department will close this case and bring justice for Ms. Claplanhoo.

So, as we wait, we can look at what we have previously learned — sort of like a debriefing, where we can learn from our mistakes and strive to fix them in the future. I will continue to champion the cause of justice for those like Ms. Claplanhoo. I will continue to bring closure to families or loved ones who are missing a loved one. I will continue to give a name to those who are nameless.

I believe that Sequim can play a part in that. I invite anyone interested to join me in the steps towards bringing private labs, or potentially a state lab, to Sequim. Everyone deserves to feel safe. Everyone deserves to get justice for the wrongdoings in life, and everyone deserves to come home.

Brandon Janisse is a Sequim city councilor.