On Jan. 26, 1979, 16-year-old Kim Bryant went missing. She was a student at Western High School in Las Vegas, and when she didn’t come home from school, her mother reported her as missing.
In less than a month, she was found — but under the worst circumstances. Her body was recovered from the desert, and it was determined that she had been kidnapped, raped and murdered.
It was a cruel injustice that such a heinous crime should go unsolved for so long, but thanks to the concern and funding of one local, the case was finally cracked.
On Monday, the Las Vegas Metro Police Department announced that, thanks to a donation from philanthropist Justin Woo of Las Vegas, the DNA evidence they had was sent to a Texas-based forensic sequencing lab that is known to be able to provide genetic profiles from even tiny amounts of evidence.
Dr. Kristen Mittelman, Othram’s chief business developer, said they “can unlock DNA clues from trace events of DNA or evidence that is older or degraded.”
“Any type of forensic evidence, and we are the only lab in U.S. or Canada that is built only for this,” she said, according to KVVU-TV.
LVMPD had run DNA from Bryant’s case earlier this year, but had been unable to make any headway. With Woo’s $5,000 stipend, though, Othram was able to identify a suspect that was then cross-checked by the LVMPD forensic lab.
The crime was traced to a then-19-year-old Johnny Blake Peterson, who at some point had attended the same high school as Bryant.
“Detectives now believe Peterson abducted Bryant the day she went missing, then sexually assaulted and killed her,” the LVMPD released in a statement.
Sadly for those hoping for justice, Peterson had already passed away in 1993 — but the police department is hoping that despite that, the fact that the cold case was solved would give other bereaved families hope that they might see justice for their own loved ones.
Edward Elliot, Bryant’s father, issued a statement that was read at a LVMPD news conference, according to CNN.
“Kim was a beautiful girl with a bright future, and it makes me happy that something is being done to help solve cases such as hers,” the statement read.
This isn’t the first time Woo has helped crack a case: Prior to this donation, he’d made another $5,000 gift to solve the 32-year-old case of Stephanie Isaacson. Othram was able to build a genetic profile of the suspect with a mere 15 human cells — the smallest amount of DNA ever used in a criminal case.
With the help of others, Woo plans to fund at least seven more tests to bring closure in other cases.
“Hopefully we may even have a spot where we crowd fund from the local community to get enough money to solve additional cases in the future,” he said.
Mittelman said she hopes their technology can be used to solve many, many more crimes.
“We don’t want to do this in a one-by-one case basis,” she said. “We want to use this technology to clear entire backlogs, and give answers to multiple families.”
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