As a child, Tammy Long always wondered where her poetic streak came from -- no one in her immediate family wrote poetry, but she loved to.
Her parents were divorced and she grew up without her father, Clyde Stansberry Jr. But once, when she was 13 years old, he came to visit. They sat down at a table to have hot chocolate and without any prompting, her dad grabbed a napkin and a pen and started writing a poem.
As of December 2014
Active missing person cases: 84,205
Total cleared* cases for 2014: 406,995
*A case is cleared when the missing person has been located or recovered. Many cleared cases are runaways.
Source: FBI's National Crime Information Center
UNIDENTIFIED PERSONS IN THE NAMUS DATABASE
NamUs is a national database for missing people funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Total cases: 11,631
Open cases: 10,083
Closed cases: 1,547
Cases solved with direct help from NamUs: 413
Source: National Missing and Unidentified Persons System
HOW NamUs WORKS
Here's how NamUs, a national database for missing people, works.
Unidentified person side
1. A coroner or medical examiner receives a body that cannot be identified.
2. The medical examiner enters key information about the body into the NaMus database, including race, sex, injuries, age, tattoos, dental records, DNA and the circumstances surrounding the death.
3. The unidentified person is assigned a case number and a public profile on the NamUs website.
Missing person side
1. A person goes missing.
2. Family members file an official police missing persons report.
3. The police or family members enter key information about the missing person into the NaMus database, such as race, age and other identifying characteristics.
4. The missing person is assigned a case number and a public profile on the NamUs website.
5. When the profile is created for a missing person, NamUs computers automatically scan the database looking for potential matches from the list of unidentified persons.
6. The computer often highlights several cases that could be the missing person, and an investigator or family member can then take a closer look.
7. If evidence suggests a match, family members can work with local law enforcement and NamUs to use DNA or other information to positively identify a body.
UNIDENTIFIED BODIES IN HAMILTON COUNTY
1. July 1, 1991 -- White male, aged 30 to 35. This man was found in a wooded area that was frequented by homeless and transient people. There was an empty bottle of isopropyl alcohol near the body. He was wearing a black T-shirt, blue jeans and white socks. He was 5 feet, 6 inches tall. Tammy Long believes this could be the body of her father, Clyde Stansberry Jr.
2. March 29, 1999 -- White female, aged 30 to 45. This woman was found floating in a tributary of Chattanooga Creek about 30 meters from the south side of Interstate 24. She was wearing red shorts and had a ponytail holder and rubber band around her left wrist. She was 5 feet, 3 inches tall.
3. August 28, 2006 -- White male, aged 35 to 45. This man was found at 12900 Eldridge Road in Birchwood. He was wearing a Tom & Jerry T-shirt, blue jeans, bandanna, socks and tennis shoes. He was 5 feet, 9 inches tall.
4. Dec. 25, 2013 -- White male, aged 30 to 40. This man's body was found inside an abandoned office building at 1701B St. Thomas St. in East Ridge that burned to the ground. The building was often frequented by homeless people, and an alcohol overdose is suspected in the man's death.
"He just looked at me and he smiled and said, 'You're my blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby girl,'" Long said. "Then he just picked up a pen and started writing. And I knew right then, that's where I got it from. It gave us that connection."
She still remembers the way he folded his hands on the table that day in 1982. Her father visited for a few days, then left. Long never saw him again.
"He intended to come back," Long said. "He promised, and I believed him. Then I went the rest of my life and I never heard anything from him."
More than 30 years passed without a word -- until 11 months ago when Long, who lives in Livingston, Tenn., decided to try to track her father down. Now, she thinks she may have found him -- in Chattanooga.
There are about 85,000 missing people in the United States and about 60 percent of them are adults, according to the latest data from the FBI.
The cases are often excruciating for family members and friends of the missing person, said Todd Matthews, director of communications and case management at NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
"The unknown is the worst thing you can possibly imagine," he said. "You can't even bury them. You worry about, are they suffering, are they in a ditch? It can alter the whole course of [the family's] existence."
For years, Long wondered about her father in silence. Her mother never wanted to talk about Stansberry, so Long didn't bring it up out of respect for her. But after a trip in February 2014, Long decided to start looking.
"I'd always wanted to know what happened to him," she said.
She delved into records, talked to family members and found out her father at one point had remarried. Then she found his death certificate, from June 1991.
"I went through grieving and I stopped working [on it]," Long said. "But something just didn't feel right."
So she kept digging, and found out that Stansberry's second wife had him declared legally dead when he went missing.
"That told me he was still out there," Long said.
Long traced Stansberry's movements from state to state through public records, newspaper clippings and interviews with family members. She also started working with Matthews and eventually posted a profile for her father on NamUs, the database funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, which includes profiles for about 19,000 missing people and another 11,000 unidentified human remains. Each profile includes key information about the missing or unidentified person, including age, race, identifying marks, injuries, dental records and fingerprints.
The system is able to automatically scan all the profiles and pull up possible matches between a missing person and an unidentified body.
When Matthews and Long uploaded Stansberry's information, the system found several possible matches. One in particular stood out: a man found dead in a wooded lot that was frequented by homeless people off 23rd Street in Chattanooga in July 1991. The body is one of only four people that have never been identified by the Hamilton County Medical Examiner.
The similarities between the man and Long's father leapt off the page.
The man had healed fractures on his ribs. Stansberry had broken his ribs.
The man showed signs of chronic sinusitis. Stansberry had always had sinus problems.
The man was found with a bottle of isopropyl alcohol near his body. Stansberry was an alcoholic.
Long submitted to a DNA test in August and sent it in for analysis. The testing takes about six months and she could have an answer any day now.
She's spent hours looking at the photos the Hamilton County Medical Examiner's office created based off the unidentified man's body. She wants it to be him, but she's just not sure.
"You never know until the DNA tells you," Matthews said.
If the DNA test confirms the man is her father, Long said she'll bring him home and give him a proper burial.
"At first I was incredibly sad to think that he'd possibly died out there alone," she said. "Then when I got over the sad, I was extremely happy and hopeful, thinking that if this is him, I can bring him home. And I can give answers to the family. They've always wanted to know."
It's been 33 years since that day when she and her dad drank hot chocolate together, and she's still grateful for the visit.
"To me it was everything," she said. "You had a little girl who wanted to know what happened to her daddy, and then all the sudden he's there."
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