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Law would close loophole in the search for thousands of America's missing persons

A missing persons flyer, bearing the name of Annie Le, shown here in New Haven, Conn., in September 2009. This year, the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) launched a new tool that allows users to openly share their "press value" with the world if they were to go missing.
Thomas Cain
Associated Press
A missing persons flyer, bearing the name of Annie Le, shown here in New Haven, Connecticut, in September 2009.

Connecticut legislators joined the families of missing persons on Friday to announce the passage of a bill that would require police to submit information to a national database.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) announced the passage of the Help Find the Missing Act in a virtual press conference. Also known as “Billy’s Law,” the bill passed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate with overwhelming support.

The bill was named after Billy Smolinski, a Connecticut resident who went missing in 2004. Smolinski’s parents Bill and Jan Smolinski joined Joe Petito and Nichole Schmidt, parents of Gabby Petito, a Long Island native whose body was found earlier this year in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming on the heels of a national manhunt, during announcement.

Jan Smolinski said Friday that the family has spent the past 15 years fighting for change within a broken system. She said they have been advocating for the passage of the bill since they testified to Congress in 2010 about the need to reform the process in which law enforcement responds to missing adult cases.

"This has been an emotionally draining experience but we are joyful that Billy's Law will help families of the missing now and in the future," Smolinski said.

The bill requires that local law enforcement submit information to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. Murphy said information from the FBI’s database that is related to a missing person case will also be added.

“It is going to make it so much easier for families going through the trauma of a loved one going missing to participate in that search," Murphy said. It is going to end that period of crippling uncertainty earlier. It is going to save some lives and it's going to bring some degree of justice.”

The bipartisan bill passed Wednesday with support from the House of Representatives after passing in the Senate last week. It will now be sent to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

"For us, this is about faith, family and love, we have tried to do what is right. We like to think Billy is smiling and happy to know that his family has not given up searching for him and that during our search, we have managed to make our country safe for all Americans," Smolinski said. "We consider this a Christmas miracle for all."

Anyone with information on a missing person case should visit The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) website.

Jeniece Roman is WSHU's Report for America corps member who writes about Indigenous communities in Southern New England and Long Island, New York.