Law passed to create cold case database

Rosie Tapia’s mother, Lewine Tapia, stands next to a poster with her daughter’s photos at a press conference. (Abigail Keenan)

A new law requiring law enforcement to create a state-wide centralized database of unsolved murders and disappearances more than 3 years old went into effect in August.

The law is nicknamed “Rosie’s Law” after Rosie Tapia, who was only 6 years old when she was kidnapped from her bedroom in 1995. Hours later her body was found in a canal a few blocks away from her home. On the 23rd anniversary of her death, her family continues to be haunted by the question: what happened to Rosie?

Rosie’s case is one of over 200 cold cases in Utah. Many hope that the database created by Rosie’s Law will play a crucial role in solving these cases.

Utah Senator Todd Weiler, who sponsored the law as a bill, said it was completely supported by law makers.

He said when he would talk to other legislators about the bill they were “shocked” to learn a database wasn’t already in place.

“We all just assumed that was going on, which is just insane in this day and age,” Weiler said. “You would think that we would be more organized then that.”

Weiler said  the Attorney General’s Office previously ran a name-only database, but it wasn’t funded or maintained well. “It wasn’t really useful,” he said. “This will be a better approach, a better system.”

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed and that this is very successful and yields some good leads and ultimately bring some closure to these families,” Weiler said. “I think they deserve it.”

Prior to Rosie’s Law, keeping track of cold cases was “kind of a voluntary thing,” said Kara Porter, a founder of the Utah Cold Case Coalition. She said some areas in Utah didn’t have a list of cold cases.

The database mandated by Rosie’s Law will be an immense improvement to the past system, Porter said. The new database will have searchable fields that will allow law enforcement to spot patterns, connect cases and ultimately solve them.

“I think it will help cases not go cold,” Porter said.

Currently Porter and her colleagues at the Utah Cold Case Coalition are working with the Utah Bureau of Investigation to get the database up and running.

Colonel Brian Redd of the Utah Department of Public Safety said the department has two initiatives: a public website and an internal database for law enforcement. Redd said the website currently has an example case and will be populated in the next two months.

The legislature that was passed also allowed the department to hire a criminal analyst. Redd said that the department will not be investigating these cold cases; however, the analyst will assist local law enforcement in investigations.

Redd said these changes are a big step for Utah. In the past law enforcement have dealt with the challenge of passing on information during staff turnover.

“This is a way to make sure these cases are not forgotten and for the public to be involved,” said Redd.

The hope is that the public will be able to leaf through the database and submit any tips they have. “You never know what you might find,” said Porter who hopes tips from the public may be able to solve some of the cold cases. “We want as much information as possible to input into that database.”

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