Jaycee Dugard Looks Like the Image Forensic Artists Created to Help Find Her

Jaycee Dugard looks like the image forensic artists created to help find her.

ByRussell Goldman
October 14, 2009, 4:48 PM

Oct. 15, 2009— -- People magazine has made public the first image of Jaycee Dugard as an adult since the woman was kidnapped 18 years ago when she was just 11 years old.

On the cover of the magazine, which hits newsstands Friday, a smiling Dugard with long auburn tresses looks remarkably like the age-progression image forensic artists at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children created to help in the search for the missing woman.

Click here to visit People magazine's Web site to see the cover and read more about the exclusive interview.

Though Dugard and the two children she had with her alleged kidnapper, Philip Garrido, ultimately were rescued thanks more to the quick thinking of a police officer who met the suspect in August than to the image, similar age-progression photos have been instrumental in the recovery of more than 900 missing children.

"The real photo of Jaycee and the age-progression are remarkably similar considering it's been 18 years," said Ernie Allen, president of the center.

Allen called the process by which forensic artists create digital versions of what a person might look like years after they went missing "half art and half science."

Short of her hair's color and style, Dugard had many of the facial features -- including the shape of her nose and mouth -- experts predicted should would when they created the digital image.

The NCMEC has been creating digital age-progressions of missing children since 1989, because, Allen said, "the public has a hard time imagining what a two-year-old might look like at six or eight years old and these images help the public recognize and identify missing children who have gotten older."

The center, which works in conjunction with the FBI and distributes the age-progression images through thousands of police departments and more than 400 private distributors that plaster the images on milk cartons, mass mailings and in well-trafficked public areas like Wal-Mart stores.

Forensic artists create a composite image using photos of the missing child, photos of the child's parents when they were the age the child would be today, images of the child's siblings and a vast database of 35,000 images of children of all races and ages.

The most important feature in creating an age-progression image of a young child over a long period of time is the growth in his skull and face, Allen said.

"If you look at the face of an infant, it's all skull and forehead. Over time, there is a lengthening of the skull. We use family photos to simulate that cranial-facial growth and then we select out features that are uniquely inherited," said Allen.

"That old saw that a child has his mother's eyes or father's nose is accurate more often than not," he said.

Before the image is completed and circulated, artists consult with the child's parents, particularly the mother, about personal tastes that might influence what the older child looks like since she was abducted.

"In some cases a parent might say: 'I'm sure my daughter would have bangs, or I think her hair would be longer," Allen said.

The NCMEC updates age-progression images every two years for children under 18 years old and every five years for adults older than 18. Though the center previously used specially designed software, today forensic artists at the center typically use the popular photo-effects software Adobe Photoshop.

The center has made age-progression portraits for children in many high profile cases including Sean Hornbeck, the boy who was found in 2007 after he was abducted five years earlier, and Maddy McCann, the British girl who went missing in Portugal in 2007.

Some of the technology used in creating aged-progression images is the same forensic artists use to create facial reconstructions from skeletal remains.

The younger the child was at the time of the abduction, the more difficult it is to create an age-progression image, making the recovery of Aric Austin one of the most remarkable recoveries aided by digital imaging.

Austin was abducted by his non-custodial father when he was just shy of 2 months old from his mother in Vancouver, Wash. in 1981.

Twenty-one years later, a U.S. Department of Education investigator working on a case involving fraudulent birth certificates recognized Austin's driver's license photo from an age-progression image.

In 2003, when he was 22 years old, Austin was reunited with his mother.

Age-progression technology also was instrumental in the recovery of Sara Eghbal-Brin, a three-year-old girl abducted from her mother at knife point in France in 1999 and found in Canada three years later.

French authorities contacted the NCMEC and said they believed the girl was somewhere in North America. In February 2002, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer pulled over a car and recognized the girl in back seat.

Dissemination of images to the public was critical in the recovery of Joseph Carson, who went missing in Phoenix in 1998 when he was 3 years old.

A customer at a local auto parts store recognized the age-progression image that was being shown on a screen in the shop that featured missing children and contacted authorities.

In 2003, when he was 9, Joseph was reunited with his mother.

"The goal of using this technology is to keep the case alive and provide hope to the families," Allen said. "The world forgets, police run out of leads, the media spotlight fades, but with enough science and persistence we hope to stimulate the public and that they'll call us with information."

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