Knox County Sheriff’s Office develops protocol on what to do if you find human remains

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – What would you do if you found human remains? Many times, hikers, hunters, joggers or someone walking a dog spot something that turns out to be a bone from a murder victim or a missing person.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office announced Friday a set of steps to take. They say it’s very much needed and this time of year the seasons are changing, so people are spending time outside in the wilderness.

Signs were all over Cumberland County two months ago, pleading for someone who knew anything about Nina Karen Owens to come forward. Investigators soon discovered skeletal remains, believing it was Owens.

“We wanted her home but we didn’t want her home this way,” said her sister Maggie Bisutti in October.

What would you do if you had found the bones?

“If we’re not notified, then we don’t know the remains are there and that person is going to remain a cold case,” said Amy Dobbs, a cold case investigator for KCSO.

To not let a case go cold, KCSO has developed a breakdown of what to do. The most important thing is not to touch anything.

“Mark where you were so that you know how to get back in and back out to be able to show us,” added Dobbs.

Then investigators say to call 911 with details. In most cases it’s animal remains, but you never know and it can go beyond county lines.

“Remains are often scattered and families are scattered, so trying to find family members of a missing person is sometimes very difficult. You rely on law enforcement to collect the samples,” said Todd Matthews with the National Missing and Unidentified Missing Persons Systems.

Relying on hikers, bikers, and anyone who spends time outside is vital.

“You’re working for closure for the families and be able to bring a name back to the victim,” said Dobbs.

Roughly 4,400 unidentified remains are found every year across the country according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. The Knox County Sheriff’s Office is the first in Tennessee to partner with organizations like TWRA and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System to issue this protocol.

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