–By Laura Oles
On March 18, 2021, Alice Almendarez, stood before the Texas legislature and testified in support of #HB1419, also known as John and Joseph’s Law. This new law would make it mandatory for all missing people and unidentified body reports to be entered into NamUS (The National Missing and Unidentified Missing Persons).
There are currently 1,660 unidentified bodies and 1,529 missing person reports open for Texas in the NamUS database. This means that there are more unidentified bodies than there are missing persons reports. In short, many families are without answers as to the where their missing loved one is, and this law could be the link that provides an answer. John and Joseph’s Law is named for Alice’s father, John, and Joseph, David Fritts’ son.
Alice understands all too well the pain these families endure. Her father disappeared after spending Father’s Day with her family in June of 2002. One moment he was with them, and then he was gone.
Alice went to the Houston police to file a missing persons report. She followed the instructions of what she was told to do, but adult missing persons cases can be challenging in many ways. Law enforcement officers explained that her father was an adult and that it wasn’t a crime to go missing. In her heart, she knew her father would never walk out on his family in such a way, but small doubts haunted her. What if he had left them? It is a horrible burden to carry as a child.
Alice searched for twelve long years before she would learn the fate of her father.
She later discovered that his body had been found a few weeks after his disappearance, just a few minutes from his childhood home. Early on, she had gone to the morgue asking if they had any bodies matching her dad’s description and was turned away, only to later find out he had been there during the time she was looking for him. The truth had been close, and she had no idea.
It is this trauma and heartbreak that Alice hopes to spare other families and is the driving force behind her working to have this important law passed.
John and Joseph’s Law would support the search in locating missing persons by requiring the use of the NamUS database. Alice explained, “If someone goes missing in Houston, Texas, and his body is found in Austin, Laredo, or somewhere in Louisiana, there is no way to currently make this connection. How would law enforcement in Louisiana know this person is missing if there is no paperwork outside of the missing’s home city?”
Alice makes an important point in that this law will link and share resources to the benefit of both the missing unidentified person’s family as well as law enforcement. She said, “This law will require that police reports like my father’s missing persons report be entered into the NAMUS database. They can then be linked to any of these unidentified bodies, since those, too, must be entered with this new law. Dental, DNA and other sorts of comparisons can then be made, and these reports can be viewed at any time.”
Alice’s personal experience with NamUs was one that gave her answers. “It took twelve years for me to find an answer. Once his information was entered into NamUs, a comparison was made in six months. This law can keep other families from the relentless trauma of searching for a loved one and not finding an answer. I don’t want any other families to endure what we did.”
One of the most remarkable things to note is that Alice didn’t learn about NamUs through any law enforcement agency. She discovered it while watching a television show. “Is this a real thing?” she wondered. She got online and learned that it did, in fact, exist.
Alice has spent the last several years helping other families navigate the fraught and difficult road of searching for a missing loved one. In 2015, Alice attended a missing persons event and realized that even an organized meeting didn’t cover a number of important issues. When she attends an event, she explains the process, including the importance of entering a loved one’s information into NamUs (there is a family section of the database for this purpose), and how critical it is to search outside of one’s own jurisdiction. She has personally assisted several families, including one whose sister had been missing for twenty-one years. After the NamUs entry and the DNA submission, this family, too, found their sister.
Todd Matthews, former Director Case Management & Communications and missing person’s advocate, told me, “I’ve seen Alice resurrect herself from total devastation into a powerful advocate for change. As a father myself – I am positive that her father would be prouder that she can even imagine.” He also added, “As Texas works to pass a state law that strengthens the procedure surrounding the missing and unidentified, there’s some important unfinished business. I want to help make it possible to return Alice’s father to his family for repatriation closer to his family.”
This, too, is Alice’s continued effort—to have her father returned home. Next year will mark 20 years since his body was found. “He has only been dead in my mind for 6 years,” Alice told me. “This is the final step, and it has taken so long. I will get him moved to a respectable grave if it’s the last thing I do.”
When Alice went to the Texas legislature on March 18, 2021, to testify on behalf of passing this law, she felt the full weight of its importance. She said, “It was a bit overwhelming. There are thousands of familes waiting for help that were depending on us. I felt like I needed all the right words and God’s favor to prove to them there was no reason not to pass this law. I heard someone say this was long overdue. That was exactly what I needed to hear.”
Alice’s next step is working with state senator Carol Alvarado, who is sponsoring SB899, the companion bill to John and Joseph’s law. Alice will continue advocating for families and working with the Texas legislature to ensure that NamUs becomes a required part of the missing persons investigative process. Once this law is passed, the next step, Alice says, is to work on back logs. “This law will make it mandatory for cases of missing and unidentified to be entered only AFTER September 1, 2021. The bodies already waiting and reports from people who have lost all hope are still waiting. I plan to work on an amendment to this current bill for the 88th legislation to make all the unsolved missing and unidentified reports to be entered into NamUs. That is the only way we can help those 1,660 bodies left without a name. I can only imagine these families’ pain.”
Alice, in fact, knows their pain all too well, which is why she dedicates so much of her time and energy to supporting other families in their search for missing loved ones. Her future plans include starting a foundation to help families of the missing. “Once you’re in this world and you know your way out, you just can’t leave. I have the tools and knowledge to help, and I’m going to continue to do that.”
When I asked Alice how we, the public, can help support these efforts, she said, “Social media is very useful. Specifically, sharing our posts about John and Joseph’s Law. Also, there is a place to leave comments when there is a hearing. This kind of support is very helpful. Most important, share a missing person’s post or article—no matter how long they have been missing. We have power that can help families. Even if it just shows them their loved one has not been forgotten. Seeing one share of their loved one’s case gives hope.”