Families relieved to see missing persons, unidentified bodies reporting bill headed to governor

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As David Fritts made the early morning drive from Houston, once again he had his son on his mind. 

The law, once signed by the governor, will be named after  Joseph Fritts from Houston. (Courtesy: David Fritts)
The law, once signed by the governor, will be named after Joseph Fritts from Houston. (Courtesy: David Fritts)

He said he always thinks about Joseph, but this trip to the Capitol was a little different. He wanted to be there when Senators passed House Bill 1419

“I just imagined him and I riding together in a car like when he was a little child – had great memories,” Fritts said, smiling. “And you know, a lot of emotions in the past have been hard thinking about him. But today was one of the first times having, having good memories, you know, and laughing about all the crazy stuff he did when he’s a child.”

Fritts said after his son disappeared, it took nearly two years to identify Joseph’s remains. He said a law like this would have saved his family a lot of heartache and torture. 

Named after his son and John Almendarez, another Houston resident, “John and Joseph’s Law” passed the Senate unanimously and is now headed to Gov. Greg Abbott. 

Texas joining other states with requirements

It would require law enforcement, medical examiners and justice of the peace to enter case details including forensic information into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or NamUs

Those details would include fingerprints, dental records and descriptions of missing children or persons and must be entered into NamUs within a certain timeframe. 

Once Gov. Abbott signs the bill, Texas will be among 10 states with similar requirements, which is a direct result of KXAN’s “Missing in Texas” investigation. 

"John and Joseph's Law" passed the Senate unanimously and is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott. (Courtesy: Arezow Doost)
“John and Joseph’s Law” passed the Senate unanimously and is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott. (Courtesy: Arezow Doost)

State Rep. Lacey Hull, R-Houston, started working on the legislation before the session even started after meeting Fritts block walking in his neighborhood during her campaign. 

“I am overwhelmed by the unanimous support that John and Joseph’s Law has received from both the Texas House and Senate,” said Hull. “I truly believe that this law will make a huge impact on missing persons investigations and help Texas families who are searching for missing loved ones. Tomorrow I will be sending a letter to Gov. Abbott to ask that he sign HB 1419 into law.”

According to Hull’s office, Gov. Abbott has 10 days to sign the bill, excluding Sundays. Otherwise, it goes into effect on Sept. 1 unless it’s vetoed. 

Push from families impacted 

The law is also named after John Almendarez from Houston. (Courtesy: Alice Almendarez)
The law is also named after John Almendarez from Houston. (Courtesy: Alice Almendarez)

“This is something that really needs to happen. This is something that’s long overdue, it matters,” said Alice Almendarez, John’s daughter.

She has been pushing for the bill for years and watched online with her family as the gavel came down, and the bill was voted on by the Senate. 

“It was special to hold my little John Joseph as I heard the final reading,” said Almendarez, who named her son after her father. “I’m really happy that it’s finally going to pass. It’s finally going to be reality, and a lot of families who are waiting for help are going to actually get it now.”

She said it took her family more than a decade to find her father. 

She testified in May and told lawmakers that had his information been entered into NamUs after his missing persons report was filed, they would have found his body sooner. 

Alice Almendarez with her son after learning House Bill 1419 passed the Senate. (Courtesy: Alice Almendarez)
Alice Almendarez with her son after learning House Bill 1419 passed the Senate. (Courtesy: Alice Almendarez)

“I’ve been able to help other families, and they would not have been able to make the connection to their loved ones without the database. And so I really believe that it’s, you know, it’s gonna help, it’s gonna help solve so many cases,” explained Almendarez. 

She and Fritts have worked together on this bill over the last several months. They explained it’s an empowering tool for even families, who can log on and search the database for their loved ones.

David Fritts drove to Austin early Wednesday to witness Senators pass “John and Joseph’s Law." (Courtesy: David Fritts)
David Fritts drove to Austin early Wednesday to witness Senators pass “John and Joseph’s Law.” (Courtesy David Fritts)

It would not cost Texas any additional dollars to implement the law since NamUs is federally funded. 

“You feel like you’ve never done enough and could never stop. And just the frustration and the heartache. And you know, it’s hard to relate to people or other people to relate to you, you know, looking for your your child for years. And I think it’ll help, you know, it’ll help families not have to go through that,” Fritts explained.

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