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For nearly four decades, Laverne Wilson and her family suffered in silence after the disappearance of her oldest daughter, Carla Tucker.

“I had my life stolen, Carla had her life stolen and I will never get over her death,” Wilson said. “We didn’t talk about her. It was too painful.”

In 1979, Carla Tucker, 14, left home to go to the grocery store in Detroit and never returned.

“Carla was your typical teenager. She loved music and loved to cook. She brought so much joy to our household,” Wilson said. “Our world shattered when she went missing, we literally lost ourselves.”

Carla’s body was discovered 13 years ago in a 55-gallon drum encased in concrete by workers in a Carleton landfill. But it wasn’t until this year that it was finally identified.

Last August, after seeing a newscast about unclaimed bodies, Wilson and her youngest daughter decided to give DNA samples through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. The group is working with the Michigan State Police to try to locate the more than 4,000 missing persons in the state.

Wilson paused with tear-filled eyes as she looked down and clasped her hands together.

“On Feb. 11, 2015, we found Carla. It was a positive hit,” Wilson said. “I froze. After all of this time, I finally knew where she was.”

During the same time Carla’s body was identified, the Missing Persons Coordination Unit of the state police was able to make a positive identification of the body of 14-year-old Bina Emery, who also disappeared in Detroit in 1988.

Police say the two cases are not related.

To support families that are still looking for missing loved ones, the state police and NAMUS will host Missing in Michigan on Saturday at the Renaissance Center.

Officers will be on hand to take DNA samples from family members to help identify missing individuals. They’ll also take tips on old and new cases.

“It’s not just a DNA swab; families are able to connect with others, share their stories and have an opportunity to make a Web page for the missing loved one,” Lt. Mike Shaw said.

In 2014, there were 84,924 active missing person records in the United States, with 33,677 of those cases being people under 18, according to the FBI National Crime Information Center.

Shaw said Michigan has more than 4,000 missing individuals, 300 of which are remains, with 250 of the unclaimed bodies belonging to Wayne County.

“In the past, it was difficult, because police departments were not equipped to check DNA,” Shaw said. “When it was first introduced, there was still a lot of gray area and by then hundreds of people had already gone missing.”

The event is expected to draw more than 500 people looking for answers and clues.

“Since its inception, five years ago, 50 people have been discovered and 12 of which were still alive,” Shaw said. “Those are the more successful stories, but some families are still waiting.”

Wilson continued her search for Carla over the years, by contacting the Social Security Administration in hopes of finding a work record, and even hiring a private detective.

“We put up fliers and hired an investigator that ended up swindling us out of a lot of money,” she said. “There was no Amber Alert or DNA testing, so we did the best we could back then.”

Like Wilson, some who are looking for loved ones turn to unconventional methods.

Heatherleigh Navarre, a psychic medium, has worked closely with law enforcement to help with missing persons cases.

“About six times a year, I will get calls from police officials and families needing assistance in finding family members,” said Navarre, owner of the Boston Tea Room in Ferndale. “We were able to locate a few people that were still alive and, unfortunately, some that have already passed.”

While she has helped the police, Navarre does not advise family to rely solely on intuitive advisers.

“When families are most vulnerable and grieving, con artists will try and prey on these individuals promising false hope,” Navarre said. “Don’t put all blind faith into a psychic. You still need to seek help from authorities and the many missing persons resources that are available.”

Ashley Iodice of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said it’s important for families to talk to kids about safety precautions.

“We know that children face risks every day,” Iodice said. The center “provides resources to families and knows that teaching children about safety works.”

During the event, child ID kits containing an inkless fingerprinting card, DNA collection envelope and a cut-out wallet card will be handed out.

With Carla’s body being identified, the case is now an open homicide investigation.

Wilson hopes to become an advocate for missing individuals, stressing the importance of DNA testing and sharing her story with others.

“DNA helped us get closure,” Wilson said. “We can finally begin the grieving process.”

ksmith3@detroitnews.com

Missing

in Michigan

When: 1-5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Renaissance Center, Detroit

Contact: Detective Sgt. Sarah Krebs, (517) 241-0051 or krebss@michigan.gov

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