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Twilight Festival to debut DNA kits

A new program gives the traditional ID kits a forensic boost.
Wednesday, September 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:39 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

It became a household term during the O.J. Simpson trial, and it’s a constant theme in popular forensics dramas like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

Now, DNA sampling will be a feature at Columbia’s Twilight Festival. A new program, sponsored by the Columbia Police Department and U.S. Cellular, will allow parents attending the festival to obtain samples of their children’s DNA.

Parents can receive swabs from their children’s cheeks to keep with shot records or other personal documents.

Paternity Testing Corp. donated materials for the new tests. Company spokeswoman Michelle Beckwith said that while similar DNA tests have been available at stores such as Wal-Mart for around $15, the testing center can put them together fairly inexpensively.

Samples will be taken and the complete children’s identification will be distributed at the U.S. Cellular tent near the Boone County Courthouse. The samples and the kit are free.

The ID kit includes a folder to hold the fingerprints, DNA information, dental records, photographs and details about any scars or identifying marks.

The police department began offering the DNA samples during the last few days of the summer Twilight Festival, in addition to taking children’s fingerprints.

Beckwith said the DNA sampling proved popular with parents.

“We had five times the turnout we expected,” she said, adding that they tested over 100 children the first night.

Police department does not keep records

Some people, however, are skeptical about the need for DNA testing.

“I don’t know how I feel about it, about what they’d use it for,” said Therese Tarnoff of Kirksville. “I don’t know how I feel about them knowing so much.”

Police Sgt. Danny Grant said that the department does not keep such records.

“There’s no child database that I know about in the state of Missouri,” he said. “We don’t keep children’s fingerprints on file.”

Beckwith also noted that the new portion of the ID program does not include any actual DNA profiling. The children’s cheek swabs are sent home with the parents who will be able to have them analyzed in the future if necessary.

In such an instance, the parents would have to take the samples to a DNA testing lab or a crime lab. Beckwith added that though Paternity Testing Corp.’s main focus is on paternity cases, it occasionally gets involved with forensic investigations.

The police department has organized child identification programs for the past six years. According to Grant, it began to include DNA swabs about two years ago.

In the past, the department has held events at various locations, such as daycare centers, Callaway Bank and the Columbia Mall.

U.S. Cellular has worked with the police department on similar identification projects in the past, said a company spokesperson. Company employees help with fingerprinting and swabbing, oversee the event and answer questions.

Tarnoff’s friend, Jeri Kemple, also of Kirksville, has attended the Twilight Festival in the past and is excited about the DNA program.

“I think it’s a fabulous idea,” Kemple said “I’m all for it. There should be more of that kind of information. It should be more accessible, especially for people in remote areas.”


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