Portland/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on February 23, 2024
Decades-Old Mystery Solved, DNA Technology Identifies Portland Teen Sandra Young After 54 YearsSource: Facebook/Oregon State Police

After over 50 years of mystery, the skeletal remains of a young female discovered on Sauvie Island have been positively identified as Sandra Young, a teenager who vanished from Portland in the late 1960s. Oregon State Police and medical examiners cracked the cold case open thanks to modern advancements in DNA technology. Sandra Young, a former student at Grant High School, was last seen nearly 54 years ago before her family would hear of her fate, as found on the north end of the island by a Boy Scout troop leader on Feb. 23, 1970, NBC News reported.

Identified trauma suggested foul play, however, few leads surfaced though the years. It was not until the Oregon State Police Medical Examiner's office obtained a grant in 2018 to further employ innovative DNA techniques on unsolved cases that the first real break appeared to possibly identify the remains. This cutting-edge work, coupled with state-of-the-art genetic genealogy, would eventually lead to a match for Young. "Sandra Young has now regained her identity after 54 years," Dr. Nici Vance, Human Identification Program Coordinator at the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office, stated with a sense of resolution, acknowledging the efforts of numerous agencies and family members' cooperation in the investigative process, as mentioned in a news release covered by KRON4.

The mystery began to unravel when Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA company, was brought on board to analyze a bone sample. They initially created a DNA Snapshot Report, predicting the decedent’s ancestry and physically reconstructing the person's face. "To see her face come to life through DNA phenotyping was striking," Dr. Vance told CBS News. However, it was the combined effort of genealogists, the uploading of DNA by potential relatives into the genetic genealogy database GEDMatch, and the relentless investigative work that eventually led to Young's sister providing a DNA sample, which confirmed the remains as Young’s.

Portland Police Bureau's Detective Heidi Helwig played a crucial role by interviewing Young's sister, unearthing the painful history that another sister had also tragically died from gun violence. This testament to the heavy toll taken on the Young family was a poignant reminder of the lingering questions behind Young's demise. With the identification now confirmed by Oregon’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Sean Hurst, the Portland Police Bureau has been advised to possibly further the investigation into the circumstances surrounding Sandra Young's death. The breakthrough in the case represents an intersection of science, perseverance, and the longing for closure – offering a glimmer of answers after decades of silence, as KRON4 detailed in their report.