Social Media Sleuths, Armed With AI, Are Identifying Dead Bodies

For everyone Faced with the challenges posed by online volunteer communities, the reality is that they exist in a vacuum left by the authorities.

In 2021, 106,699 Americans died of an overdose. In Seattle, the fentanyl crisis is so serious that the the number of overdose deaths has doubled over the past three years, causing morgues to be overflowing. THE “fourth wave” of the crisis The United States recently experienced a massive overdose phenomenon that mobilized law enforcement, straining the resources needed to identify the dead. For forensic doctors, the “tsunami” of bodies has led to staff burnout, resource depletion, and jeopardized the accreditation of many offices due to the need to conduct more autopsies than industry guidelines allow.

“Unfortunately, the opioid crisis That means more people are coming to the medical examiner’s office for an exam,” says Dr. Constance DiAngelo, Philadelphia’s chief medical examiner. “Many of these people are not initially identified.”

Authorities simply do not have the resources to thoroughly investigate every case. “Our challenges are related to financing,” says DiAngelo. “Exhumations, reburials, DNA extraction and processing, and genealogical comparisons are expensive. A file can cost between $2,500 and $10,000, not including the need for staff who can dedicate to this type of work.

In King County, where Seattle is located, there are currently 57 unidentified people that the medical examiner’s office is working to identify. This dire situation is a reality in major U.S. metropolitan areas. In situations where people are found without identification, it may take weeks, if not monthsto locate the next of kin.

Waiting and not knowing can be agony for people whose loved ones have disappeared, like Kallie Catron’s family. Catron’s mother, Crystal Newman, last spoke to him on October 14, 2022. Catron said she missed her two children and wanted to come home. “When Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years rolled around, my sister knew something was wrong and called to report someone missing,” said Sarah Forister, Catron’s aunt. “I guess you could say a mother knows when something is wrong with her baby.”

On January 22, 2023, Newman received a link to a post on Thee Unidentified’s TikTok page. Photos from the morgue and images of his tattoos confirmed it was indeed Catron. “At first we were so angry that that’s how we found out,” Forister says. “But Kallie’s mother and I and her cousins ​​watched the video showing her morgue photo and all of her identifying tattoos multiple times a day.”

Eventually, Lee asked the family if they could remove the video because Catron had been identified. “I said yes, but please send me the video so I can watch it whenever I want,” says Forister. Lee agreed. The community shared the family’s GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Catron’s funeral and support his children. “We realized that without the Thee Unidentified community and Rionna, we could still be looking for Kallie,” says Forister.

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