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SALT LAKE CITY — If you’ve ever wanted to help solve a cold case, one Utah nonprofit may have the solution.
The Utah Cold Case Coalition is encouraging Utah genealogy enthusiasts to upload their DNA information to GEDmatch, a free, public genealogy website.
Law enforcement officials have been able to look through information on the website to search for DNA data that might lead them to cold case suspects, according to Utah Cold Case Coalition co-founder Jason Jensen.
“If you’re a willing participant, it may actually aid law enforcement to solve one of these cold cases,” he said.
For those who don’t mind potentially sharing their DNA information with law enforcement officials, GEDmatch is an option, he said.
Jensen formed the Utah Cold Case Coalition in January along with Karra Porter, a Salt Lake-area attorney, and Tom Harvey, a former Salt Lake Tribune reporter.
The three have paired their expertise and resources to research several cold cases, including the case of Rosie Tapia, a 6-year-old girl who was abducted and murdered in 1995.
“We hope that it will help bring closure to the 200-plus cold cases that aren’t going to solve themselves,” Jensen said of the coalition.
The group is also doing research on the case of Diana Ramirez, a Utah woman who was murdered at her workplace in 1986.
GEDmatch doesn’t have as stringent privacy rules as other genealogy sites such as 23andMe.com or Ancestry.com. Unlike those sites, law enforcement officials don’t need a search warrant to obtain data from GEDmatch, since it’s a public site.
“You’ve got to be willing to share DNA to see if there’s a distant family member of yours that may be a killer,” Jensen said.
However, after the Golden State Killer case was cracked, the site issued a privacy statement to users and now allows them to withdraw information they previously provided to the site.
Uploading DNA information to the website is just one part of the process, Jensen said.
It helps law enforcement officials narrow down the list of possible suspects in a case. They still have to get DNA samples from the suspects and build a case that will hold up in court, he said.
Since Utah has a large number of people who are interested in genealogy, the coalition is asking people to consider submitting data to GEDmatch.
Something similar to the Golden State Killer case could happen in Utah if genealogists are up to the task, Porter said in an emailed statement.
“Our coalition has identified several unsolved Utah murders where DNA is available for comparison, but it doesn’t match law enforcement databases,” she said. “Genealogists could help solve these crimes.”