Authorities identify woman's skeletal remains through online DNA database

Chris Togneri
| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 9:23 p.m.

Nearly 12 years after a woman's skeletal remains were discovered in a Homestead tunnel, and three years after officials buried them in a North Strabane cemetery, authorities used an online DNA database to finally solve the mystery of the unidentified bones.

Amanda Sue Myers, 22, died sometime in 2000. Family members last saw her that year in January at her daughter's first birthday party; police found her bones 10 months later by train tracks in a fenced-off tunnel near McClure Street.

Officials still do not know how she died, but family members and police said Myers lived a troubled life.

She battled drug addiction, surrendered her two young daughters in a closed adoption, and drifted among Pittsburgh, Florida and Tennessee, they said.

Ultimately, her decomposing body lay in that dark Waterfront tunnel probably for months before it was found, they said.

“There's no closure,” said Myers' half sister, who did not want to be identified because she fears for her family's safety. “We don't know what she was doing that day, how she died, who she was with. How long did she lay there in that tunnel? Was she scared?

“I know where she's buried, but I don't know anything about the days leading up to when she died. My family will never have closure.”

Unable to identify the body for years — Myers wore only socks and had no identification — the Medical Examiner's Office buried it with those of two other unidentified women in Woodruff Memorial Park in 2009.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh police Detective Sgt. Joseph Gannon and Detectives Carl Sanchioli and William Fleske periodically revisited the cold missing person case, contacting family and friends and to develop new leads as to Myers whereabouts. Her last known address before she disappeared was a shelter Downtown.

Authorities got nowhere until February 2010, when they went to a law enforcement seminar in Appleton, Wis.

There they learned about the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, which compiles and then tries to match coroners' unidentified body reports with police agencies' missing person reports.

The detectives contacted Myers family, got DNA samples from her grandmother, mother and half sister and sent them to NamUs.

“Little did we know the county medical examiner already had her remains,” Sanchioli said.

This summer, NamUs matched the DNA of the unidentified body with a DNA swab from Myers' mother, who lives in Florida. Police called Myers' half sister on June 27.

“I kind of already knew,” Myers' half sister said. “I was relieved they found her, but not to hear that she was gone. Nobody wants to hear that.”

Throughout the years, Myers' family called regularly for updates, Sanchioli said.

“Dealing with family members that still care even after 10 years really made me want to find her,” Sanchioli said. “Myers' drug use does not make her any less human.”

Myers half sister said she spent years searching for her in some of Pittsburgh's rougher neighborhoods. She never lost hope that they would someday reunite.

“She was trying to get her act together and do her best for her kids. She just wasn't in a good place in her life,” she said.

Staff writers Margaret Harding and Bobby Kerlik contributed to this report. Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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