The family of Ramona Brown, a 3-year-old girl who went missing in a 1984 house fire, said they are hoping modern technology might provide new clues about what happened to the girl.
Fire and its primal appetite not only devoured the Brown family home in 1984, but it created a mystery, now, 33 years in the making. The fire killed two young boys and left their sister, 3-year-old Ramona Brown missing.
Now Ramona’s family said they are hoping modern technology might draw some hope from the long-since-scattered ashes. Four family members, including siblings and Ramona’s mother, Johnnie Mae Brown, submitted saliva samples to the consumer DNA database Ancestry.com.
Three of the four samples submitted were unable to be tested, according to Ancestry staff, but the sample sent by Johnnie Mae was successfully added to the database.
“Every new person that takes the test is compared to the 4 million other people in Ancestry’s database and those matches are updated every day,” Ercanbrack said.
The company’s collection of DNA samples has surpassed 4 million, with new samples added daily. According to Ercanbrack, every time a new sample is added, it will be compared to Johnnie Mae’s to see if they might be related and how closely.
Ancestry.com’s scientific testing parallels that of law enforcement, comparing 7,000,000 so-called “DNA markers” to DNA panels in order to confirm familial relationships.
While Johnnie Mae’s DNA did reveal some extended family members in the database, it did not identify any direct descendants, indicating Ramona, if she is still alive, has not submitted her DNA for testing.
“In Johnnie Mae’s case, she has first and second cousins that pop up right at the time, but for now it looks like Ramona has not taken the test,” said Ancestry.com family historian Michelle Ercanbrack.
But all hope is not lost. Ercanbrack said Johnnie Mae’s DNA will remain in the database as long as she desires.
So, if years down the line, Ramona submits her biological sample, Johnnie Mae’s Ancestry.com account would indicate there was a match.
The Brown family said they aren’t just hoping for an “X” that marks the spot on their genetic map, they for results where biological meets technological in the form of a photo.
WWL-TV hired a photograph restoration expert at Lakeside Camera Photoworks in Metairie to improve the condition of one of only a handful of photos the Brown family has left. The restoration provides a slightly clearer glimpse of the facial features of the young girl.
In the original picture, Ramona is sitting on a blanket and there is a finger obscuring the lens.
The photograph appears to have been taken about a year before the Browns’ house caught fire in 1984, when Ramona was approximately age 2.
But if Ramona is alive, what would she look like now?
WWL-TV contacted a dozen forensic age progression artists who regularly work with law enforcement agencies to get the photo aged to adulthood.
Most of them said they were unable to complete the process in the time given because of the poor quality of the original photo. But after weeks of work, forensic artist PhoJoe was able to age the picture, giving the public, and the family, a look at what Ramona might look like in the present day.
Only one of Ramona’s siblings recalls seeing the girl alive after the fire. Simona Brown, 39, said she remembers seeing Ramona get in a bronze-colored, Cadillac-type sedan with an older, interracial couple in the chaos after the fire.
Simona describes an older black man and an older white woman offering to help take care of Ramona. She said Ramona climbed in the car and that was the last time she ever saw her sister.
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