Mercyhurst Magazine Spring 2022

Forensics’ newest mission: Missing and exploited children

while providing the students with meaningful and focused racial and social justice experiential learning opportunities. “This project aligns nicely with the Mercy Mission and our Core Values, more speci f cally highlighting socially merciful and re f ectively aware values,” added Hurley. The Mercyhurst team joins representatives from the Erie County Court of Common Pleas, Erie County District Attorney’s O f ce, Erie County Public Defender’s O f ce, the Bar Association, and Gannon University, as well as members of the community, elected o f cials, business leaders, and agencies that serve lower-income individuals. For more information on the Pardon Project, contact Garase at .

They’ve identi f ed victims of fata l f res. They’ve helped to solve murders. Their work has given closure to families time and again. Now two forensic anthropologists at Mercyhurst University

have been tapped to assist with investigations into missing and exploited children.

Dr. Dennis Dirkmaat, chair of applied forensic sciences at Mercyhurst, and Assistant Professor Dr. Joe Adserias- Garriga have joined the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) as subject- matter experts. Dirkmaat’s expertise is centered on his pioneering work in recovering human remains from outdoor sites. In addition to being a forensic anthropologist, Adserias-Garriga is a forensic odontologist, who assists in identi f cation of remains through dental records. NCMEC o f ers forensic services to law

enforcement, medical examiners, and coroners to f nd missing children, identify unknown deceased children, and develop leads on child abduction homicides. According to its website, the Forensic Services Unit calls upon subject matter experts from a wide array of forensic disciplines to develop a comprehensive evidence strategy to ensure all possible forensic resources have been considered. When NCMEC put out a call for forensic anthropologists and forensic odontologists late last year, Dirkmaat and Adserias-Garriga knew their unique combination of skills could be valuable. In the end, NCMEC hired three forensic anthropologists and three forensic odontologists from more than three dozen applicants, with both Dirkmaat and Adserias- Garriga getting the nod. “For Mercyhurst to have one of each among all those who applied is very cool,” said Adserias-Garriga, whose impetus for getting involved was partially personal. “My mom is a pediatrician. … I don’t have any kids of my own, …. and I just thought this would be a way I could help children and their families,” she said. “Dr. Joe stood out for us because of her dual concentration, and the fact that she had experience dealing with cross-border issues,” said Carol Schweitzer, supervisor of NCMEC Case Manager Forensic Services, the latter referencing her work in locating, recovering, and identifying remains found in the vicinity of the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas. Of Dirkmaat, Schweitzer said, “We were blown away by his range of experiences, especially by his outdoor crime scene assessment and recovery. Plus, he had worked with NCMEC before in exhuming remains of unidenti f ed juveniles, and we valued his ability and the quality of his work.” Although the expertise of Dirkmaat and Adserias-Garriga typically comes after a victim is deceased, Dirkmaat said, “It’s critical when you are recovering remains, especially in light of a crime, that you use the best practices, and that’s where our archaeological recovery protocols come into play. We can help provide closure for families.” In selecting both Mercyhurst professors, Schweitzer said NCMEC considers itself fortunate. “Not only do they already have a working relationship, but Mercyhurst is a great university and has such a broad (forensic anthropology) program. We knew they would be a great pair to assign casework to.”

The Pardon Project Erie County Steering Committee includes, from left: Judge Stephanie Domitrovich; Julie Kresge, executive director, Erie County Bar Association; Atty. Tina Fryling, associate professor of criminal justice, Mercyhurst; Jacqueline Wilson Lager, executive director, Northwest Legal Services; Taylor Baker, graduate assistant, Mercyhurst O fc e of Community Engagement; Dr. Maria Garase, program director, Criminal Justice Administration, Mercyhurst; Atty. Tim George; Colin Hurley, executive director of community engagement, Mercyhurst; Peter Agresti, director, pre-law program, Gannon University; Jack Daneri, former Erie County District Attorney; Elizabeth Hirz, current DA; Aubrea Hanes, Erie County clerk of records; and Antonio Howard, pardon fellow, Pardon Project of Erie County.


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