Nonprofit aims to identify missing people, bodies

Watching police procedurals on television might give you the impression that every time the authorities find a body, it is identified in days, if not minutes. Rebel Morris, founder and executive director of Can You Identify Me?, said that is not the case.

“Every year, there are 80,000 individuals in the United States that remain missing,” Morris said. “There are 40,000 bodies who remain unidentified.”

The nonprofit was founded in 2011 with the hopes of connecting unidentified bodies with missing persons. Until May of this year, it was based out of Morris’ east valley home, but a fundraising push helped her get a small office at 405 Max Court, Suite 240, in an industrial area of Henderson, a block off of Boulder Highway.

The nonprofit doesn’t have a quantifiable success rate because Morris said she and her volunteers don’t look on themselves as the ones who solve the case. They try to facilitate bringing information together from a wide range of resources so that local law enforcement departments can solve cases. Morris feels like they are making a difference, which is one of the reasons the retired paralegal puts in 50 to 60 hours working on Can You Identify Me?.

“It’s not just me,” Morris said. “We have volunteers who come here and put 10 or 20 hours a week and some that put in 30 to 40 hours per week. These are students, former law enforcement officials, other retirees; we have people from a lot of different backgrounds volunteering.”

In some cases, they are working with family members who have been trying for 30 years to find out what happened to their loved one; in other cases, it’s someone who has been missing for only three days.

“You would think that with today’s technology, it shouldn’t be that hard,” Morris said. “Someone gets found; someone goes missing. You match the DNA, and that’s done. But if you haven’t been in the military or haven’t been arrested for a hard crime or volunteered your DNA, it’s probably not on record.”

Despite resources such as the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), and the National Crime Information Center — a computerized database of documented criminal justice information available to virtually every law enforcement agency nationwide, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — people fall between the cracks. Morris said it’s often the human element that unintentionally impedes the system.

“We’ve found that a lot of local government tends to not like the federal government,” Morris said. “A lot of small town law enforcement organizations are underfunded or don’t have great resources. Sometimes they might not have some of the most competent staff, and often, they are allocating their resources towards current cases. We try to help and be a go-between or extra eyes looking at a problem.”

The volunteers handle a number of tasks, such as cold-calling coroners to see if they have any outstanding cases they could use a hand with. They have resources who will conduct DNA sequencing for free and experience connecting multiple databases to find possible matches. They also work with forensic artists who volunteer their time to reconstruct a damaged or skeletal face to create an image of what the individual probably looked like when alive.

Jane Billingham, our forensic art program manager, will be here at the end of November,” Morris said. “She’s based out of the United Kingdom. Our FA team now has about eight artists around the world.”

One volunteer with a lot of practical background for the task is Stu Michaels, who worked in security at several casinos in town after 20 years as a New York Police Department detective. Between calls, he explained the sort of work he does for Can You Identify Me?

“I try to make matches,” Michaels said. “Right now, I’m working on one from 1969, a 4-year-old child who disappeared. I just got off the phone with the Baltimore Police, and they were very positive about this. They were saying ‘Let’s do this.’ They’re looking into it on their end, and I’m hoping to hear back from them soon.”

Special training such as Michaels’ isn’t necessary to volunteer at the nonprofit, and Morris is seeking volunteers from all walks of life. She can always find a way for someone to help if they’re willing to give the organization some of their time.

Visit or call 702-866-9755.

— To reach East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor email or call 702-380-4532.

Downtown Summerlin hosts its annual Festival of Arts
People crowd to Downtown Summerlin for the 23rd annual Summerlin Festival of Arts in Las Vegas, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County educators debate alternative grading systems
Spring Valley High School principal Tam Larnerd, Spring Valley High School IB coordinator Tony Gebbia and retired high school teacher Joyce O'Day discuss alternative grading systems. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Grandparents on the fire that killed three family members
Charles and Doris Smith talk about the night an apartment fire took the lives of three of their family members. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
New York artist Bobby Jacobs donated a sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden
Bobby Jacobs, an artist from upstate New York, has spent much of the past year creating a sculpture of two separate angel wings. He donated the sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Weather will cool slightly through the end of the week
The weather will cool slightly through the end of the week., but highs are still expected to be slightly above normal for this year. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mayor announces new public-private partnership
Mayor Carolyn Goodman announced the creation of the Mayor’s Fund for Las Vegas LIFE, a public-private partnership that will allocate money to the city’s neediest.
Fremont9 opens downtown
Fremont9 apartment complex has opened in downtown Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Fall fairytale gets cozy at Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory introduces its fall-themed garden titled "Falling Asleep." (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
What the house that Ted Binion died in looks like today
Casino heir Ted Binion died in this Las Vegas home in 1998. Current home owner Jane Popple spent over $600,000 to restore and modernize the home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Rescue Mission employees terminated
Don James, a former employee for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, talks about the day his team was terminated. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Cupcakes at Freed's Bakery
Freed's Bakery will have Raiders-themed cupcakes available in store and for order during football season. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s fans say goodbye to Cashman Field
Las Vegas 51s fans said goodbye to Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Monday September, 3, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s owner Don Logan's last weekend at Cashman Field
Don Logan, owner of the Las Vegas 51s, gives a tour of Cashman Field before the team's final weekend using the field. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Star Trek fans on show’s enduring popularity
Star Trek fans at the Star Trek Convention 2018 talk about why they think the show has stayed popular across the years Thursday, August 2, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Nonprofit provides clothing for homeless
Sydney Grover of Can You Spare A Story?, talks about how she founded the non-profit organization. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like