Jessica Young talks about her mother in the past tense.
“She had a tattoo on her left shoulder. . . . She was a good person. . . . She was a good mom,” she said.
Young speaks of her mother as if she were dead, but Young really has no idea whether she is. Theresa Young disappeared in 2015, with no hint since then of where she went, whether she is safe and why she vanished.
“It’s really scary not knowing anything,” said Jessica Young, whose mother was living in Northeast Washington when she disappeared.
That is why Young, 30, and her sister attended the first “Missing in Washington D.C.”
District police organized the gathering Saturday to help families with missing loved ones meet one-on-one with detectives and forensic experts to try to find answers.
A main feature of the event included a DNA collection station, where relatives of the missing had their mouths swabbed for samples that will be run through a national database of dead but unidentified people.
“The benefits of taking just a few seconds to submit a DNA sample can sometimes lead to answering questions about loved ones that have gone unanswered for years,” said Jenifer Smith, director of the city’s Department of Forensic Sciences. “DNA has been the . . . definitive piece of investigations that have generated solid leads in missing-person cases time and time again.”
The event comes a little more than a month after investigators unearthed three sets of skeletal remains in Southeast Washington. The women are homicide victims, and police are working to determine who they are and the circumstances surrounding their killings.
Chief Peter Newsham said the remains are a “perfect example” of people who could have been reported missing and later identified through DNA. Newsham said police have submitted the remains of the three women to the FBI for DNA analysis and will be comparing that DNA to those of area families that are missing loved ones.
The District is home to some high-profile missing-person cases, including those of Relisha Rudd, a girl who lived in a homeless shelter and disappeared with a janitor at age 8; and Unique Harris, a young mother who vanished from her Southeast Washington home while her children slept in the next room.
Police are investigating those cases, but there are also 18 missing-person cold cases dating to 1983, said Durriyyah Habeebullah, acting commander of the police department’s youth and family services division.
“We will not give up hope and will continue to explore all the ways to further engage the community, our law enforcement partners, city services and any other means that will quickly reunite families with their loved ones,” Habeebullah said.
Derrick Butler, 55, and his mother, 85, attended the event Saturday, each getting their cheeks swabbed to provide DNA for law enforcement.
Butler’s sister Pamela Butler disappeared before Valentine’s Day in 2009. Police made an arrest in her killing eight years later, but her remains have not been found. The ex-boyfriend convicted of her murder said he buried her body somewhere in Virginia, but when police were able to start searching for her, they found the area had mostly been covered over by an interstate highway.
Butler said that although his sister’s case is solved, he still hopes that one day remains will be found.
“We would love to have any part of her back to say she’s resting,” Butler said.
On Saturday, before giving her DNA sample, Young, who lives in Southeast Washington, scrolled through images on her phone to show detectives pictures of her mother.
Young still keeps her mother’s cell number in her phone under the label “Mommy” and often thinks Teresa Young is “dead somewhere” — but she also holds out hope.
“We all love her,” Young said. “We’re all looking for her, and we want her to come home.”