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Vanished: Winston-Salem police work to solve 41 missing persons cases dating back to 1970

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- More than 600,000 people go missing every year in the United States. Of those, tens of thousands remain missing a year later. And each year, more than 4,000 unidentified bodies are recovered by law enforcement across the country.

"The boys come in and I'm like, 'wait, where's my daughter,’” said a Winston-Salem mother, who didn’t want to be identified, minutes after her daughter was found by Winston-Salem police.

"We're just frantically running around,” the mother said, of the moments after she realized the young girl was missing. "I was screaming her name like crazy and I called the police and I was like, 'look, I don't know where my daughter is.'"

When a call comes in for someone 12 years old or younger, officers say they’re automatically considered a high-risk missing person.

“Everyone available goes,” Winston-Salem police Lt. Greg Dorn said.

Within seconds of placing the 911 call, the mother said she heard sirens.

"You just go deep down to the darkest thoughts. Like I'm thinking somebody's got my child sequestered in an apartment, holding her hostage and she's trying to get out,” she said.

Within minutes of the officers’ response, the young girl was found.

"Oh my God,” the mother described. “It's better than the relief you feel after giving birth naturally. I can say that, because I actually birthed her naturally."

However, evidenced by the above figures, not everyone can be so lucky.

"It really eats at me that I missed his call because that was the last call,” said Susan Renee Taylor, who is one of the unlucky ones.

Taylor’s older brother, Brian Haynes, went missing on June 9, 2014. He was 39 years old at the time.

Haynes had been in the hospital, but when he checked out, it was as though he vanished.

"He's one of those that just disappeared off the face of the earth so to speak,” said Dorn, who handled the case at its inception.

Officers did searches of the woods, creeks and areas Haynes was known to frequent. Still, not a single sign of him surfaced.

"It's just like, what in the world? He stopped using all financial means, he didn't have cell phone communication,” Dorn detailed.

Dorn added that officers can access emails and social media accounts with search warrants.

"Me living out of state, I was just like sitting in Florida thinking, 'oh my gosh I gotta get back to Winston-Salem. I gotta go looking for him,’” detailed Barbara Haynes Robinson, Haynes’ mother.

"I have children, so I don't know how she handles it,” Taylor said, of their mother.

The family did searches, while trying to get the word out about Haynes’ disappearance through friends, family and social media.

"They've found bodies, not his,” Robinson said.

When a body was located near Robinson’s former home, police utilized a relatively new tool to determine if it was him.

In 2003, the National Institute of Justice began efforts to enhance the use of DNA technology. In collaboration with the NIJ, the National Forensic Science and Technology Center and Occupational Research and Assessment developed the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs.

"So, if somebody in Wyoming finds some skeletal remains, they can actually extract DNA from that and send that DNA to NamUs for comparisons,” Dorn said.

By using DNA from Haynes’ family, officers were able to determine the found body was not his.

Today, Haynes is one of 41 documented unsolved missing persons cases in the city of Winston-Salem since 1970.

"You feel like you have a hole in your heart and you don't know what to do with it,” Robinson said.

"When I see those on TV I'm glad that they're able to have answers and know,” Taylor said, of other families when they get word a body has been found and identified. "You have your highs and lows and it just never stops."

In late 2015, plans to rebuild NamUs began. Development of the application started in 2016, and in May 2018, NamUs 2.0 was released.

Nearly a quarter of the 4,400 unidentified bodies recovered every year nationwide remain unidentified after a year.

Five years after Haynes' disappearance, his mother remains hopeful they’ll someday find him alive.

"The real hard part is to be driving down the road, and see somebody on the side of the road, and think it's him and know in my mind that it's not.”

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