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A Mother’s Search For Her Son In 1995 Led To A Mass Grave And Changed Laws

One evening in the fall of 1995, 21-year-old LaMont Dottin didn't come home. He was a freshman at Queens College and was living with relatives, having recently moved to New York from California, reports NPR. LaMont's mother, Dr. Arnita Fowler — who holds a doctorate in management — was still in California and flew to New York the next day. But when she went to the police to report her son missing, the officer she spoke with was dismissive. About a month later, police officially listed him as a missing person. His case was transferred to the Missing Persons Squad, joining thousands of other cases on the docket to be investigated. Fowler started calling Missing Persons at least twice a week to follow up. This pattern would continue for the next four years.


LaMont's case was assigned to the Long Term Case Team in March of 1999. A few months later, Fowler made one of her routine calls to the Missing Persons Squad, and got a different response than usual. "The same man who had been telling me no — it was the same guy!" she remembers. "He said, 'Sure, we'll meet you.'" When detectives visited Fowler the next day, they told her that LaMont's body had been found in the East River in Oct. 1995, a week after he went missing. His body would have been sent to the morgue, where fingerprints would have been taken and submitted for cross-checks with local and national databases. But LaMont's body wasn't identified. He became a John Doe, and, like other unidentified New Yorkers, he was buried on Hart Island in a mass grave in early 1996. When detectives revisited the case in 1999, however, they made a surprising discovery. Just a few weeks after his death, the FBI had actually matched fingerprints taken from a body found floating in the East River with LaMont's fingerprints in a national database. After her son was found, Fowler became an advocate for missing persons and their families and began pushing for reforms to New York's missing persons laws. In 2016, New York State passed LaMont Dottin's Law, which requires police to expedite searches for missing adults by reporting them to the National Crime Information Center database. Previously, such reports were required only for missing children, and adults who were considered vulnerable.

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