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DeKalb Police hopes DNA drive could close cold cases

New DNA technology has helped them solve a 30-year-old unidentified woman case -- they hope its recent DNA collection event could pose similar results.

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Cold case detectives collected what they hope would be evidence to close ongoing DeKalb County investigations and bring families closure.

At DeKalb County Public Library on Covington Highway, officials hosted a missing persons event and DNA drive Saturday. It was the first-of-its-kind event.

Officials with the medical examiner's office and the district attorney's office asked families about their loved ones and were willing to open any missing persons report while there. Their goal is close 27 ongoing unidentified remains cases. Officials said that number could go up after Saturday's event -- but hopefully, they'll be able to resolve them.

Director of the DeKalb County Medical Examiner's Office Patrick Bailey said answers for authorities and families could be as simple as a painless DNA swab. 

"It may lead to (the) identification and subsequent closure for that family," he said. 

Tonjala Harris came to Saturday's event, hoping to assist in her missing daughter's case. She said 23-year-old Artdrunetta Hobb seemingly disappeared in August 2006 from Atlanta by Melvin Park and her remains have never been found.

"I go looking for my baby quite often," she said. "I think someone out there knows exactly where my baby at and what happened -- and I can't stop looking for her."

Harris said she wanted to submit her DNA and find some answers.

"Cold cases are hard; losing a loved one is really hard and not knowing," she said. 

Harris said that 2023 already has a different outlook than 2006 -- saying with new investigators, modern technology and new DNA she's hopeful there could be something.

The event comes as DeKalb County received a $500,000 grant for new DNA technology that's already helped solve a case.

In one case, a woman's body had been found 30 years ago and this March is when authorities were able to identify her as 52-year-old Rebecca "Becky" Burke. A crew had found her remains just off Northlake Parkway to the west of I-285 on September 17, 1993, behind an electrical unit in pine straw. The medical examiner's office determined she died from blunt force trauma at least two weeks to three months before being found. No arrests have been made in her case.

DNA technology has been proven to help close decades-old cases. 

Another case involved a young boy whose body was found near a DeKalb County cemetery in 1999. DNA testing confirmed his identity to be William DaShawn Hamilton. His mom was accused of his murder and was extradited to DeKalb County from Arizona last July. 

Cary Belcher said he doesn't want a gruesome outcome but trusts that with patience the new DNA technology can bring him answers too.

His son, Brandon went missing in November 2008, a week before Thanksgiving. He said the last time he saw his son he was 26 and it was a normal Saturday morning. 

It's been tough since his son's disappearance.

"You trust in God," he said about how he gets by. 

Belcher advises families in his situation to do what they can to also submit their DNA and to pray, because patience will provide answers. 


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