12 Investigates: Using DNA to identify missing people

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A DNA breakthrough cracked a 12-year-old cold case wide open this week. We now know who's body was found in the Mattaponi River in June of 2001 - and it's all because a 21-year old searching for her mom.

A skeleton discovered in the Mattaponi River sat in a box unidentified for 12 years - until Diamond Gee couldn't stand it any more and had to find her missing mother.

She found a police detective who would help her.

"He told me to go on NamUs and give my DNA. And that's what I did," said Diamond Gee.

With a simple swab of the inside of her mouth, her DNA was placed in a database of missing people and unidentified remains, called NamUs.

Brad Jenkins is the DNA program manager for the state crime lab. He says anyone out there missing a loved one should do what Diamond did - submit DNA.

"It's really the final piece of the puzzle that's needed to help make some of these identifications," said Jenkins.

It was only recently discovered that you could pull DNA out of bones. It's called mitochondrial DNA.

"Mitochondrial DNA is passed on by the mom to her children. It exists in bones, and there's lots of the mitochondrial DNA in the bones cells."

In the case of the mystery on the Mattaponi - when scientists retested the bones a few weeks ago - they finally got a match. Thanks to her persistent daughter, Brenda Gee Knight's remains will finally come home.

"Without that, I wouldn't have never known, without my DNA."

If you are trying to track down a loved one, go to police and submit your DNA. It's a simple swab of the inside of your mouth. Your DNA is not used for anything else and is not allowed to be compared to any criminal records. It is also erased from the missing persons database if a match is ever made.

Brenda Gee Knight was finally identified, but her murder is still unsolved. She was last seen alive in November of 2000 along Jeff Davis Highway.

If you have any information that could help police, call 804-553-3408.

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