Semester of Graduation

Spring 2021

Degree

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Geography and Anthropology

Document Type

Thesis

Abstract

The growing number of unresolved unidentified and missing persons cases in the United States is this nation’s ‘silent mass disaster’ (Ritters, 2007). In addition to contextualizing biocultural traits of these cases, forensic anthropologists are uniquely qualified to address this underrecognized humanitarian crisis due to their proven ability to bridge conflicting stakeholders in often complex sociopolitical environments and to create improved opportunities for community collaboration. This project explores local and state demographic trends of missing persons cases and how this information can be used to assist investigative agencies with their missing population, analyzes gaps in identification data, and selects optimal locations for community events that call attention to unidentified and missing persons cases.

A total of 557 open and closed missing persons cases were used from the database of the Louisiana Repository for Unidentified and Missing Persons Information Program, hereinafter referred to as the Repository. CrimeStat© and ArcMap software were used to process and analyze geographic anchor point locations of missing persons and to produce visual representations of that data. While missing persons data in the Repository were generally comparable to other missing populations from the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, the demographic composition of those trends varied greatly among populations. The application of GIS helped illustrate gaps in data that are useful for the identification of unknown decedents; these cold spots can inform investigative agencies for future data collection. Lastly, a series of spatial clustering analysis methods were performed to elucidate five strategic spatially-informed locations for hosting missing persons outreach events that are designed to increase public awareness, collect additional information, and engage families of missing persons as valued stakeholders.

This study highlights the importance of discussing demographic trends in regional missing persons data that provide context as to why the reported missing population does not necessarily reflect the population at large. These findings demonstrate the latent value of geospatial analyses when applied to missing persons data and how this approach can benefit an investigating stakeholder’s ability to alleviate human suffering.

Committee Chair

Listi, Ginesse A.

Available for download on Thursday, March 07, 2024

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