PITTSTON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)— The family of a Luzerne County woman who went missing 17 years ago this weekend says they will never stop searching for her and answers in her disappearance.
They say they want to help other families across the nation find answers in the disappearances of their loved ones.
The family of Shelva Rafte of Pittston who vanished without a trace 17 years ago helped changed federal and state laws to help families of missing loved ones. The most recent law on the books is called “Billy’s Law.”
“Every day that goes by is another day longer that she’s been missing. We wonder you know if anything will come about,” said Alesia Micheals, the niece of Shelva Rafte.
And the family of Shelva Rafte was determined to transform that ‘wondering’ into action it all began on May 29th of 2006. Memorial Day Rafte was last seen a day earlier at her daughter’s college graduation party.
She vanished without a trace her family and friends say they soon learned that there was what they describe as a patchwork of information databases that were not mandated to connect with the national missing persons and unidentified persons system or NamUs.
They worked to change that at the state level and now at the national level with ‘Billy’s Law’ named after a young man who went missing in Connecticut.
“Make sure their loved one is in a database that is nationwide and their information can be added to periodically to keep cases updated and accessible whether you are in one state or the other or in one profession or the other such as law enforcement, dentist or doctor and you have some information that’s relevant to this case,” explained Dawn Michaels, a Rafte family member.
Unlike missing children, federal law does not mandate law enforcement to report missing persons or unidentified bodies.
Billy’s Law changes that, and Congressman Dan Meuser supported the legislation.
“I was happy to vote in favor of Billy’s Law last congress which closes loopholes in America’s missing person systems, streamlines reporting processes, and ensures law enforcement databases are more accessible. This legislation is important to the master’s family and to all families who have faced such tragedy,” says Representative Dan Meuser.
State Senator Lisa Baker helped push through similar legislation in Pennsylvania that helped lead to the formation of Billy’s Law.
“This new law will help ensure that across the country if someone is found missing and their DNA is detected they can link it to a national database,” added Sen. Baker.
“Are you holding out hope that even after all this time that you’ll ever find answers to what happened to your sister?” asked I-Team reporter Andy Mehalshick.
“I do. I do. I’m very hopeful with the database and awareness that we will. I think this new law should give hope to other families too,” answered Shirley Master Shelva Rafte’s sister.
And the numbers really tell the story to consider this each year around a half million people go missing across the nation.
Many of those cases end in tragedy and some 40,000 sets of unidentified remains are currently held by coroners.