In Ybor City, dozens of families from across the country recently convened to explore new technological advancements aimed at resolving longstanding cold cases.
Jennifer Kesse disappeared in 2006. Recalling the 17 years since her disappearance, her father, Drew Kesse, mentioned the significant impact it had on their lives. Jennifer, 24 at the time, was last seen leaving her Orlando condo. She remains missing, but her story resonates with numerous families experiencing the same ordeal.
To assist families in such situations, the “Missing in Florida Day” event was organized in Ybor City. Here, families could update biometrics, file new missing persons reports, and offer DNA samples for genetic testing without any cost. Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast highlighted the potential of modern science to revitalize older cases, turning previously inconclusive evidence into solid leads.
Erin Kimmerle, Director of the Florida Institute for Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science at the University of South Florida, emphasized the significance of genetic genealogy. She noted that it’s a game-changer, with numerous cases being solved nationwide due to this advancement.
The event was not solely focused on Jennifer Kesse’s case. Numerous stories of missing individuals, like 35-year-old Joshua Simmons, echoed the Kesse family’s sentiments of loss and hope. Simmons went missing in March 2022 after checking out of a Days Inn.
Mary Jones from Indianapolis sought assistance for her missing brother, Michael Brad Farrington, last heard from in 2013. With an address trace leading to Florida, Jones hopes to find any leads.
At the event, the combined efforts of local law enforcement agencies and researchers from the Florida Institute for Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science focused on a DNA drive. They aimed to compile data, pictures, reports, and DNA samples to facilitate solving cold cases and locating missing persons.
Statistics suggest that over 3,200 individuals in Florida are currently categorized as missing or endangered, with an additional 900 unidentified John and Jane Doe cases open.
Sheriff Michael Prendergast emphasized the value of shared information and urged the public to come forward with any data they might have. Recent advancements in DNA sequencing have rekindled hope for many families.
For many attendees, like Jones, such an event represents an invaluable resource. While this was an annual occasion, Sheriff Prendergast reminded the public that local law enforcement agencies are constantly ready to gather information and DNA samples, intending to shed light on these unresolved cases.