LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - A DNA program working to solve missing person's cases is starting to pay off.
The State Attorney General's Office announced Friday the name of a deceased Crittenden County man identified with DNA samples submitted by his loved ones.
The man identified is Tommy Lee Newingham of Earle. He was first reported missing 12 years ago. THV 11 spoke with a relative by phone who said the family wasn't ready to talk about the program's finding yet, but with this discovery, there's hope now for other families out there waiting for closure.
"My nephew's disappearance is so emotional. I love him very much. I miss him," said Tamra Gentry of Mayflower.
Some eight years after James Matthew Sullivan disappeared, the pain of not knowing where he is still haunts his aunt, Tamra Gentry.
"When you have a death and have a funeral that's one thing you can have some closure, but the not knowing is really, really hard," Gentry said.
Gentry told THV 11 News that Sullivan was staying at a Little Rock halfway house when he disappeared. She said that he'd gone there after serving time for a DUI. His aunt said that something suspicious may have happened there, but she doesn't know what.
Last August, to help find him, Gentry came to a program at State Police Headquarters called "Never Forgotten: Arkansas Takes Action." About 50 families with missing loved ones showed up, giving DNA samples for a federal data-base and information that could assist authorities.
"That was the first time that I saw that we could find someone that would help us," Gentry said.
Since then, Gentry said that other family members have come forward with DNA samples. There have been no strong leads, but a ray of hope came Friday with the program's first match. The remains of Tommy Lee Newingham from Crittenden County were identified.
"I was thrilled to hear it. I know one family is getting some closure," Gentry said. "I really think we'll have some answers, some day, some way."
She's staying positive so one day she'll see her nephew again and get him back in the family pictures.
As for this DNA program, the attorney general's office said it expects to host another one this year. The office reported there are more than 450 missing persons cases in Arkansas. The state crime lab reports around 80 sets of remains, full and partial, at the lab right now.
Newingham was first reported missing in 2001. The same year his vehicle was found in Memphis. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's office said Friday that his remains were discovered in Memphis ten years later.