Portraits of hope. Scott Barrows draws missing children with age progression process
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A medical illustrator by profession, Barrows's artistry brought together an even more complex jigsaw that had pieces strewn throughout the Southwest. A 10-year-old girl was found in Oklahoma City after seven years on the missing list.Skip to next paragraph
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``This child had a fictitious name, a fictitious date of birth. She had been moved around - every year a different address,'' says Nick Pittman, detective with the Oklahoma City police. ``There's no way, other than with that picture, we could have found her. It's scary how close the picture was.''
``He [Barrows] wouldn't take any money from me, either,'' explains the girl's father, a resident of Boulder, Colo., who requests that all family names be withheld.
For Barrows, all this isn't a business. It's a mission.
For more than two years, he set aside evenings and weekends to work on age progressions for desperate parents without charge.
But the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has changed this, bringing Barrows to its faculty. At present, UIC is only inches away from officially opening a National Research Center for the Identification of Missing Children. Barrows will be a key staffer two days a week.
Even though he'll now receive pay for his work, the UIC won't bill parents. Mr. Sadler will be in charge of the center's administration. Both men previously worked together at the Health Science Center, University of Texas, Dallas.
``If children have been missing three years or longer, parents are usually so broke from looking for the kids, they can't afford anything more,'' says Barrows, the father of three children.
And ``broke'' is exactly where Scott Fulmer found himself. ``I had paid $27,000 to just one investigator alone. And he didn't turn up anything,'' says Mr. Fulmer, a fireman in Leeds, Ala., who searched more than three years for his son, Christopher. He had been taken by his mother.
This particular drawing proved a special triumph for Barrows. It was the first time he had facially aged a child so young, transforming the snapshot of a 17-month-old tot into a five year old.
``It looked exactly like Christopher when I got him back,'' says Fulmer.
On the average, Barrows spends between eight and 20 hours on a drawing.
``Hardest for me to do is the soft tissue in the nose and the lips because they don't follow as predictable a pattern.'' From chin to under-the-eyes is tough, too, because the area is affected by teeth, diet, and heredity.
It was in the spring of 1985 that Barrows was pulled into this new art. NBC planned to televise a documentary on missing children, and producers scoured the nation, offering an honorarium for an artist willing to age photos for living-room viewers. Barrows was game.
On the TV show, Barrows displayed his drawings of two sisters, abducted from the Chicago area seven years before. Within 20 minutes of the telecast, phones jangled. The girls - 13 and 15 - were identified by school officials and neighbors in Ohio, marking a clear-cut victory for the process that Barrows hadn't yet tested.
Barrows's technique has proved itself. And while he wrestles with a hefty backlog, parents wait.