By Silvia Pettem –For the Camera
For 12 years, the mother of Cristobal James Flores had lived in limbo, with no idea where her son was or what had happened to him.
On this Mother’s Day, however, she finally has some resolution, thanks to the determination in late March that previously unidentified human remains found in Boulder County were those of the Denver teen.
Boulder County Coroner Emma Hall recently showed me Flores’ former unmarked grave in the Sacred Heart of Mary Cemetery on South Boulder Road. While we were there, she reflected on what it’s like to give a family member peace of mind.
“Working on a John Doe case is a lengthy process,” Hall said, “but very rewarding in the end when you can bring comfort to a family.”
Flores had left his Denver home in September 2001. When the 16-year-old hadn’t returned a few months later, his mother reported him as a runaway.
In August 2002, skeletal remains of a young man were found near the Silver Saddle Motel in Boulder. At the time, however, no one connected the remains with the missing teenager.
Hall dusted off the unidentified-remains case when she took office in 2011. Her predecessor had extracted DNA, then buried the remains in a plot donated by the cemetery.
In Hall’s reopened investigation, she had access to several new tools. She entered the DNA profile into NamUs, a recently launched national dual database for the missing and unidentified.
Then, in 2012, Hall exhumed the John Doe so scans could be taken from his skull and used to create computer-generated drawings that would show the young man’s facial features.
Hall also sought out dental records as she continued to work the case, unaware that detectives in the Denver Police Department, in their search for missing persons, had been looking for Flores.
At the Flores family’s request, the Denver Police obtained DNA from two family members and entered their profiles into the same national database that held the profile of the John Doe. The data was entered into the FBI’s database of missing and unidentified, as well.
While Hall was waiting for the drawings, she received the exciting news of a double hit. Both Flores family members’ DNA profiles matched the profile of her John Doe.
Still, some questions were left unanswered. Hall examined the remains and found no obvious indications of trauma, giving no determination for the cause and manner of Flores’ death.
There’s no question in Hall’s mind, however, of the importance of connecting missing persons with unidentified remains. From time to time, she is contacted by families of missing loved ones, and she carefully considers each inquiry. She encourages all family members with missing persons to seek out their local law enforcement agencies and submit DNA samples.
Hall’s office also is handling three other John Doe cases. One involves recently discovered remains found in a trunk in the VFW Hall in Longmont. The other two sets of remains were found in 1993. One of those is buried in Boulder’s Green Mountain Cemetery, and the other is in the Burlington Cemetery in Longmont.
“Flores rested for 12 years in a beautiful peaceful location,” Hall said. “I’m thankful that his now-cremated remains have been reunited with his family.”
Silvia Pettem and Carol Taylor write about history for the Daily Camera. Email Silvia firstname.lastname@example.org, Carol at email@example.com or write to the Daily Camera, 5450 Western Ave., Boulder 80301.