LITTLE ROCK — A push to collect DNA samples from the relatives of missing people helped link the case of an east Arkansas man who disappeared in 2001 to a set of skeletal remains found in 2011, law enforcement officials said Friday.
Arkansas last year sponsored an event to collect genetic material in an effort to link DNA to some of the estimated 40,000 sets of unidentified remains found in the United States.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said Friday that DNA collected from relatives of Tommy Lee Newingham matched that from bones found in Memphis, Tenn. Newingham, from nearby Earle, disappeared shortly before his car was found in Memphis. His then-unidentified skeletal remains were found in 2011, not far from where his car had turned up.
"I am grateful that the Newingham family can now begin to seek closure after 12 years of uncertainty," McDaniel said in a statement. "Through modern DNA analysis, our law enforcement agencies continue to solve these cases. However, there are more than 450 active missing persons cases in Arkansas alone, so there is much more work to be done."
While Arkansas has a small fraction of the nation’s missing persons reports, the DNA it collects is compared to information in a national database. Michigan and New York have had statewide events previously, and Arkansas hopes to hold another collection event this year.
Newingham’s remains were identified Wednesday based on samples some of his relatives provided to Arkansas’ crime lab last year.
Memphis police spokeswoman Sgt. Karen Rudolph said Friday they had not figured out how Newingham died.
Mike Callender, the chief investigator for the Crittenden County sheriff in east Arkansas, said he visited Newingham’s family Thursday.
"Even though they had resigned themselves to the fact several years ago that Tommy was dead, there’s always a momma’s uncertainly and a hope that maybe, just maybe, he would turn up," Callender said. "But with this there’s some closure."