The U.S. House passed a bill named after a Waterbury man that is meant to make the nation’s missing persons databases more efficient and coordinated.
“Billy’s Law” is named for William “Billy” Smolinksi Jr., a 31-year-old man who went missing from his home on Aug. 24, 2004. His parents, Janice and William Smolinski Sr., pressured police for years for information about their son, however, federal law does not mandate that law enforcement report missing adults or unidentified bodies.
While working with law enforcement to locate their missing son, the Smolinskis faced countless systemic challenges, most significantly the incomplete and uncoordinated federal databases for missing persons and unidentified remains. Billy’s Law was introduced to address those challenges and help ensure that the tens of thousands of American families whose loved ones go missing each year do not experience the same hurdles faced by the Smolinskis.
The legislation, dubbed the Help Find The Missing Act, was introduced by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and passed the Senate last week.
“This moment has been 15 years in the making, and I’m so proud that thanks to the Smolinskis’ persistence, Billy’s Law is headed for the President’s desk to be signed into law. This legislation will ensure that families facing the uncertainty and heartache of a loved one’s disappearance are no longer burdened by unnecessary obstacles in their search for answers and closure,” Murphy said.
The bill directs the Department of Justice (DOJ) to continue to operate the National Missing Persons and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), providing a missing persons/unidentified remains database to which the public can contribute and access; it connects NamUs with the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) in order to create more comprehensive missing persons and unidentified remains databases and streamlining the reporting process for local law enforcement; it also expands current law by requiring missing children be reported to NamUs (they already must be reported to NCIC); and requires DOJ to issue guidelines and best practices on handling missing persons and unidentified remains cases in order to empower law enforcement, medical examiners and coroners to help find the missing.
Murphy said he worked for years to find a path forward for the bill. He said he found a lead Republican to sponsor it in the Senate and found a new vocal ally in Gabby Petito’s father.
Petito vanished in the summer of 2021 on a cross-country trip with boyfriend Brian Laundrie. Her body was found in Grand Teton National Forest in Wyoming, She had been strangled.
“I’ve introduced this commonsense fix every Congress since 2009, and I’m grateful to my colleagues, Billy’s family, the family of Gabby Petito, and countless other families searching for their loved ones for their efforts to get this bill across the finish line, ” Murphy said.