Each year, thousands of Oklahomans go missing.
“There's no happiness. I've got to get my mind off of it but when i do get my mind off of it I feel guilty so it goes back to it,” Tom Eastep said next to a picture of his then 30-year-old son Tommy.
The date of his son’s disappearance, 7/6/2013, is written under Tommy’s smiling face.
Tommy Eastep went missing in the summer of 2013. He was supposed to be driving from Eufala to Tulsa for work but never made it, Tom Eastep said. So far, authorities have no leads.
The Easteps were just one of dozens of families of the missing who came to the Forensic Science Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma on Saturday morning for the DNA drive hosted by the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).
Some families came to report a loved one missing, some to turn in DNA of a missing person and others look to grieve with those who understood their pain.
“It's a nightmare you wake up to every morning. You live with it during the day. You dream about it at night,” Tom Eastep said.
“When families realize they have a missing person it may be days or weeks later and so you don't know where to begin your investigation,” NamUs Regional Manager Mike Nance said. “You've got no crime scene, you've got no witnesses, you've got nothing.”
Nance worked with the Tulsa Police Department for 38 years before taking a position at NamUs. He said there’s been a large push to bring in DNA from the missing to help with the identification process. He added items like toothbrushes or baby teeth work best. He also said family members are able to give a sample of their own DNA to help with the matching process.
Nationwide, more than 65,000 people go missing each year, according to the FBI. One hundred and ninety-seven names are on the list in Oklahoma, although Nance said that number may be much higher due to a high rate of unreported missing persons. Another 116 people are designated as unidentified on the statewide list.
Nance added the way investigators look for the missing has evolved since the major campaign to move past “milk carton kids” in the 1970s, but the technology and public education efforts need to continue to be more effective. If not for law enforcement efforts, then for the families who are looking for answers, justice and closure.
“It’s just there. I mean I want some information,” Tom Eastep said.
Family members of missing persons are encouraged to contact NamUs.gov or the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.