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CCSO Cold Case Unit Solves 22-Year-Old Missing Persons Case

Sedona AZ (October 28, 2016) – The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit has solved the missing persons case of Brian Nez. Nez, a 19-year-old Native American male from Flagstaff, had been reported missing by his family on October 25, 1994.

The information from the initial investigation found that Nez was believed to have last been seen at a party in Winslow, AZ in August or September of 1994. The case went cold after several people were interviewed and no information developed as to his whereabouts. Nez was entered as missing in the national computer database used by law enforcement.

In Spring 2015, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Cold Case Unit brought on volunteer Jana White, retired from NAU Police and Flagstaff Police Departments, to review unsolved missing person cases.  Nez’s case was re-opened in March 2016.  Investigator Jana White entered Nez into a new database called NamUS (http://namus.gov/about.htm), a website that has developed largely over the last ten years to improve information sharing on missing and unidentified persons throughout the United States. NamUS responded with information that an unidentified victim of a fatal vehicle-pedestrian traffic accident had a similar description to our missing person case. The vehicle-pedestrian accident had occurred in Navajo County about 2 miles north of Winslow, AZ in August 1994. Based on this, further investigation by the Cold Case Unit found that the Coconino County Medical Examiner’s Office had performed the autopsy on the unidentified pedestrian victim for Navajo County.

Cold Case Investigators from Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, which had taken the report of the missing person, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which had taken the report of the fatal vehicle-pedestrian traffic accident, met and compared information from the two separate investigations. Both investigators believed that the unidentified pedestrian who died in the accident could be Nez.

Nez had been fingerprinted as a seven-year-old child under a nationwide program called Operation Child ID.  His mother had kept the fingerprint card and had given it to the Sheriff’s Detective who worked the original case.  Cold Case Investigators submitted the print card to the Department of Public Safety Crime Lab for comparison with fingerprints of the accident victim.  A positive identification was made matching the fingerprint card of the Brian Nez taken during Operation Child ID with the victim of the fatal traffic accident.

“While this is a sad outcome for the family to know that their loved one is deceased, they are able to bring their loved one to rest,” said Chief Deputy Jim Driscoll. Driscoll went on to say, “The new technologies that have developed over time in terms of fingerprint analyses and data sharing have given us tools to re-analyze these cold cases, and we are dedicated to continuing to solve as many as we can.”

The fatal traffic accident investigation will remain with the Department of Public Safety. The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office is grateful to the family, Jana White and our Cold Case Unit investigators, and all of the agencies who have worked together to solve this case.

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