Janice Smolinski's son Billy disappeared back in August 2004. He's never been found. Now, she's taking her fight to Congress, hoping to reform the way missing persons cases are handled by police.
Smolinski testified before a congressional sub-committee Thursday morning in favor of Billy's Law. "In our search to find our son we encountered a Pandora's Box and when we opened it we unleashed the nightmare plaguing the world of the missing and unidentified dead," said Smolinski during the hearing.
The proposed legislation would secure congressional authorization and funding for the only existing public database that includes both information on missing persons and unidentified remains, said Congressman Chris Murphy, D- 5th District, who is sponsoring the bill. It would also link that database to an FBI database, making more information accessible to families who are searching for loved ones, while also taking steps to protect sensitive information, he said.
"A missing persons report may be entered into one database while a person's remains may be listed in another making it almost impossible for family members to try to connect those missing pieces," said Murphy during the hearing.
The legislation would also provide up to $10 million in funding for police training every year, to encourage wider use of the databases and improve police responses to missing persons cases, Murphy said.
Smolinski says her family encountered unimaginable hurdles in trying to work with police and locate their loved one. Smolinski told lawmakers that Waterbury police made them wait three days to file a police report despite their belief a crime occurred. Once a report was filed, police worked the case as a low priority, she said. They also mishandled DNA evidence, and failed to properly enter information in missing persons databases, said Smolinski.
She was disturbed to learn that databases designed to help close cases were not linked together, and were rarely used by law enforcement or medical examiners around the country.
"We have tried to change the system so no family would have to endure the anguish that we have lived through," said Smolinski.
Waterbury police have taken steps to improve their handling of missing persons cases, said Smolinski. So have other police departments aroundConnecticut, but many more need to make improvements around the country, she said.
"Uncertainly is a cancer that crushes the spirit of loved ones left behind," said Smolinski.
Waterbury police, State police, and the FBI continue working the case.