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Fire Destroys Records, Equipment of Man Who Helps Locate Missing Children

August 2, 1987

CHICAGO (AP) _ A medical illustrator whose drawings have helped locate missing children vows he’ll continue his work even though his home, records and computer were destroyed by fire.

Scott Barrows pioneered a technique in which pictures of missing children are ″aged″ as the children grow older. The technique enables him to alter a picture of a 6-year-old, for example, to resemble that child three years later, at age 9.

The July 22 fire at his home in suburban Lisle, where he does most of his work, destroyed everything, Barrows said.

″The fire destroyed the records on 70 cases I had completed or was waiting to get to, as well as the computer I used to calculate growth rates and other factors,″ he said. ″It took it all. It was a hard loss.″

Barrows, 35, said he and a colleague, Lewis Sadler, have helped find 16 missing children nationwide since they began producing the pictures two years ago. He said he has prepared more than 70 such pictures, and Sadler has done nearly that many.

They base their drawings on statistics of how the average child’s bone structure and facial features change as they age. For example, the distance from brow to chin changes considerably as a child grows, but the distance between the inner corners of the eyes stays the same from birth to adulthood, Barrows said.

Barrows does his work free of charge to parents, police departments and community groups.

One of Barrows’ success stories came last year, when 10-year-old Kimberly McCowan was found in Oklahoma City after a school principal recognized her in a drawing Barrows created from a photograph taken before she disappeared at age 3.

″It was just amazing to me,″ said Oklahoma City police Detective Nick Pittman at the time. ″You just could not believe it unless you saw how close he came.″

Expressing optimism that he can resume his efforts soon, Barrows urged parents who want to resubmit photographs of their missing children to contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, D.C.

He said he hopes to continue the work at a center that Sadler, associate professor of biocommunication arts at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wants to establish at the university. Barrows also is affiliated with the university, as a consultant.

The proposed center would contain computer graphics equipment that would make aging the photos much quicker, Barrows said.

″Computers are definitely the way to go,″ he said. ″Right now, the pictures are worked up by hand on transparent overlays. It takes me eight hours to do the average picture, and the most difficult case took me 20 hours.″

Barrows said he and Sadler developed the technique at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Dallas, first using it to help plastic surgeons determine how children operated on in early childhood would look in later years.

The NBC television program ″Missing: Have You Seen This Person?″ uses computer-generated pictures created through a different aging technique.

Instead of using scientific statistics on bone development, New York artist Nancy Burson makes pictures by melding the photos of missing children with photos of older family members who most closely resemble them.

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