Bosnian war crimes lab helps BC coroner ID remains of Prince Rupert teen missing for 35 years

Click to play video 'Behind the scenes of special unit within B.C. Coroners Service' Behind the scenes of special unit within B.C. Coroners Service
WATCH: : Global News gets a rare behind-the-scenes look at a special unit within the B.C. Coroner's Service. As Ted Chernecki reports, it identifies bodies with the help of a lab on the other side of the world – Mar 7, 2016

Nineteen-year-old Robert William Johnston of Prince Rupert went missing in 1981.

Now a lab in Bosnia and Herzegovina appears to have helped the BC Coroners Office solve the mystery of Johnston’s disappearance, providing his family with a sense of closure.

There are 177 cold cases in B.C., each tied to numerous data banks that help investigators create a profile of what they know.

In the case of Johnston, remains were found in the Prince Rupert area 21 years ago, but couldn’t be conclusively linked to the missing teenager.

Following the Bosnian War, which claimed an estimated 200,000 lives, the International Commission on Missing Persons laboratory was created to identify war victims, many of whom were dumped in mass graves.

16×9: Putting a name to human remains

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According to Laurel Clegg of the Identification and Disaster Response Unit, the Bosnian lab is “very skilled in removing the things which prevent the lab from taking DNA.”

“They just have a very advanced technique which allows us to the get that DNA out of the bone.”

BC’s Coroners Service already has Canada’s only Identification and Disaster Response Unit. Now as technology advances the Coroners Office is reorganizing to create special investigation units that can better handle a new workload.

More than ever B.C. will be revisiting unresolved cases.

Of the 24 cold cases sent to the Bosnian lab, at least five have come back with solid DNA readings, including Johnston’s.

His family recently published an obituary that said:

“After 35 long years, waiting for Bob to come home, we’ve learned he’s been home all along.”

– With files from Ted Chernecki

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