I-Team: Efforts to Mark Children's Graves - 8 News NOW

Investigative Reporter Colleen McCarty

I-Team: Efforts to Mark Children's Graves Results in Surprising Find

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LAS VEGAS -- Guided by a cemetery map, child advocate Donna Coleman searches for the plots between the headstones. The final resting place for the poor, the abandoned or the unidentified, buried at taxpayer expense in unmarked graves.

Among the list of some 100 mostly children's names are 21 adults with monikers like "Half Skull" Doe, John "Longbone" Doe and Skull "Cold Creek" Doe. Unidentified partial remains interred in the children's section of Woodlawn Cemetery.

Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy approved the burials in 2003 following the completion of a revised protocol for cold cases. Investigators reviewed the remains, some in storage for more than two decades, and when appropriate applied the latest science and technology. Those that still could not be named were laid to rest.

"That wasn't a decision that was easily made because in some respects, that means you may have done all you can do. In some respects, you may be looked at as we failed to identify -- we failed to do our job. I think what we have to look at is say, ‘No, we've done our job to the best of our ability and now we have to be patient,'" said Murphy.

That patience may pay off sooner than expected. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice awarded the office $400,000 to exhume and test some 50 missing persons cases. Forensic DNA testing of bones, not widely available in 2003, provides new hope for the identification of at least some of the remains buried at Woodlawn.

"We're going to identify some folks. I think there's an extremely high probability of that. I believe in that and if I didn't think that was possible, we wouldn't even try," said Murphy.

Murphy plans to begin early next year by prioritizing the cases with the most potential. More than 160 remain unsolved. "Ultimately the goal is to give them a name -- whatever name they were given by their family -- and return them," he said.

At the same time, Coleman plans to begin marking the plots of the children here -- the known, but unseen. It's a dual effort by two very different advocates to remember al those who might otherwise be forgotten.

"I don't know. It's just important that they don't die without any kind of recognition they were ever alive," she said.

Coleman has already collected more than $5,000 to purchase headstones for the unmarked children's graves at Woodlawn through the Children's Advocacy Alliance and other individuals in the community. She plans to mark them in January.

Murphy's office has already identified 34 missing persons through its website.

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