Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


New resources will help address crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and people

OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson provided the following statement today after the Legislature approved his budget request for $500,000 to fund genetic genealogy and DNA testing for the entire backlog of unidentified remains in Washington.

Right now, 163 unidentified remains await further testing in Washington. The new funding will supplement existing state and federal DNA testing resources. As a result, families awaiting information about loved ones do not need to endure unnecessary delays and cases can be resolved more quickly.

The Attorney General’s Office and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force advocated for the funding to clear the backlog. The task force, convened by the Attorney General in 2021, published a report in December 2023 urging the Legislature to dedicate the funding necessary to clear the backlog. DNA testing of individual remains and forensic genetic genealogy are proven strategies to identify missing Indigenous people and bring closure to families.

“Timely DNA testing can bring a measure of closure and help solve more cold cases,” Ferguson said. “Families should never have to endure unnecessary delays when seeking answers about their missing loved ones. I am thankful to our partners in the Legislature — Rep. Lekanoff, Rep. Stearns and Sen. Kauffman and many others — who continue to fight to ensure the missing and murdered Indigenous people crisis gets the attention and resources it deserves.”

In December 2023, the task force released its latest report and recommendations. The recommendation calling for funds to clear the backlog of unidentified remains stems from the experience of task force member Patricia Whitefoot, who waited 14 years for the partial remains of her sister, Daisy Mae Heath, to be tested and identified. Much of that delay was due to a lack of funding. Ultimately, the Attorney General’s Office worked with the Yakima County Coroner to provide the necessary funding.

“I’m pleased the Washington State Attorney General’s Office heard the voices of families in our pursuit to know the status of unidentified remains,” Whitefoot said. “I was reminded of these remains whenever our family received an inquiry about unidentified remains, since my sister, Daisy Heath, had been missing over 30 years. Because of our sister, I found myself motivated and compelled to promote needed resolution about the remains with the task force. Our family wondered about the status of our sister for far too long.”       

The 2024 budget provides the new resources to the Washington State Patrol, which will provide financial assistance to local jurisdictions for testing of all unidentified remains. Funds will be available for initial DNA testing. If DNA testing fails to provide an identification, funding will pay for forensic genetic genealogy.

Forensic genetic genealogy helps law enforcement solve cold cases by combining DNA testing with genealogical research, using publicly available ancestry data.

Cost is the primary barrier for law enforcement agencies looking to use DNA and forensic genetic genealogy testing to identify remains. DNA testing of individual remains costs approximately $2,500 and forensic genetic genealogy costs approximately $8,000, though costs can vary.

The state Crime Lab conducts DNA testing for local law enforcement. The Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative provides grants for that purpose, as well as forensic genetic genealogy testing at private labs. These grants have helped solve multiple cases. More information about those cases can be found here. DNA testing of some unidentified remains is also available for free through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), but NamUs has experienced significant delays in recent years. It can take up to 18 months for agencies to receive results, and in some cases remains are ineligible for the federal program.

Attorney General’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force

The budget request started as a recommendation with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force, which Ferguson convened in 2021 using a framework adopted by the Legislature. The 23-member task force is part of a coordinated statewide response to the urgent crisis of Indigenous people who go missing, are victims of homicide, or experience other types of violence. Many national leaders in tackling this crisis serve on the task force.

The task force’s work has resulted in several Attorney General Request bills enacted into law.

In 2022, the Washington State Patrol launched a statewide alert system to help identify and locate missing Indigenous women and people. The legislation was requested by Ferguson and sponsored by Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Anacortes, who serves on the task force. It is the first alert system of its kind in the nation.

In 2023, at the recommendation of the task force and request of Attorney General Ferguson, the Legislature established a Cold Case Investigations Unit to focus on solving cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and people. Rep. Lekanoff and Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, another task force member, championed the legislation. The unit hired its chief investigator, Brian George, in November 2023 and is now fully staffed with four additional investigators and a victim advocate. 

In addition to recommending funds for genetic genealogy testing, the task force’s 2023 report also recommended forming a state work group to develop best practices for law enforcement, coroners and medical examiners tasked with collecting Indigenous demographic data. Racial misclassification in cases of missing Indigenous people is a major systemic barrier to understanding the full scope of the crisis.

Additionally, the task force recommended that the U.S. Department of Justice create a nationwide Missing Indigenous Persons Alert system, similar to the one launched in Washington in 2022.

Background on the missing and murdered Indigenous people crisis

American Indian and Alaskan Native women and people experience violence at much higher rates than other populations. The national Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that homicide is the sixth-leading cause of death for Indigenous women and girls and the third-leading cause of death for Indigenous men. A recent federal study reported that Native American women are murdered at rates 10 times the national average in some jurisdictions.

According to data from the Homicide Investigation Tracking System in the Attorney General’s Office, Indigenous victims are 5% of the unresolved cases throughout the state, while making up less than 2% of the population. Due to reporting practices, racial misclassification, data collection and jurisdictional issues, the actual disparity is likely even more significant.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates that there are approximately 4,200 unsolved cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people. A 2018 report from the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle found that Washington had the second-highest number of cases in the country.


Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Media Contact:

Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov

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