Demystifying the DNA Process for Family Members of People Missing Since the Camp Fire

The DNA technology is now very simple, and is needed to identify remains discovered by search teams in Camp Fire impacted areas. Family members are being asked by the Butte Co. Sheriff to contribute DNA samples quickly.

Posted: Nov 25, 2018 7:37 PM
Updated: Nov 26, 2018 9:26 AM

CHICO, Calif. - People with family members who are unaccounted for from the Camp Fire are urged to come forward and provide a DNA sample.

Jim Davis, Chief Federal Officer with Ande, the rapid DNA company, said what they need family member DNA of those unaccounted for.

"Without a good family reference database the majority of the data we're collecting from the morgue's office or down at the morgue isn't usable," he said.  "We have to have something to compare it against to make the matches," he explained.

Davis breaks down the process for someone who comes into the testing facility.

"This is what we call a biochip. The chip, that looks like a block of plastic, is actually an entire DNA lab," David explained.

He described the process involving a swab, that you can see in the two videos (Part 1 and Part 2) above. "You take it out of the container and it snap it into the top, he explained. "You put it against the inside of the cheek six times up and down on each side and that collects both saliva and skin cells off the inside of your mouth which have a very high content for DNA, David said.

When this article was first written 560 people were unaccounted for, but that number is now at 271. according to the Butte County Sheriff's Office.

As of Friday they had approximately 75 people who have given DNA sample swabs. Davis says they need more family members to come forward.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea is asking anyone with unaccounted family members from the Camp Fire to go to the FEMA center at the Chico Mall to provide a DNA sample.

Davis said he is not really sure as to why more people are not coming forward. 

"I think that it's possible that that's part of a grieving process and it's very hard for people to accept the fact that their loved ones may be dead... and I think if they come in to give DNA there is this whole acceptance thing, you know, where they've got to accept the fact that what they're doing now is trying to identify a dead loved one," he explained.

"I think that's gotta be very hard," he said.

Action News Now reporter Christina Vitale asked one evacuee why she thinks people are not coming forward. 

Marie Abernathy told Vitale, "I think a lot of us are in denial right now for a lot of different things -- and especially holding out hope that your family is going to call you and just kind of avoiding that till the last minute. I think that's the way some people are coping," she continued.

Another Paradise evacuee, Brian Riggle,  explained why he thinks it is important for family members to go through the DNA testing process. "Cause it's just mandatory," he explained. "It's the right thing to do, especially for a loved one who is missing. I can't believe anybody would question that," Riggle said. 

Davis touched on the aspect of people being afraid to share their DNA. He related that he heard Butte County Sheriff/Coroner Honea pledge during a press conference to destroy all the DNA data that he collects as part of this identification process. He said he didn't intend to keep any of the data provided voluntarily to be used to identify victims.

Here is the link to the Sheriff's homepage, that you can use to find the most current Missing Persons list.

(Two videos posted with this story, by reporter Christina Vitale)

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