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Ten years ago, Ryan Backmann’s life changed forever.

At 12:20 p.m. on October 10, 2009, his father, Cliff Backmann, was murdered. A construction worker by trade, Ryan’s father had accepted side jobs on the weekends to help pay for his wife’s cancer treatment. Police in Jacksonville, Fla., believe his killer spotted Ryan’s father working alone in a building at his latest side job. While cutting across the parking lot, the still unknown man walked in, shot him, took his wallet and walked out, leaving Cliff to spend the final minutes of his life describing his killer to a 9-1-1 dispatcher.

After a bad few months, Ryan received a phone call from a Jacksonville-area nonprofit designed to help murder victims’ families. They invited Ryan to a support group meeting, and the experience helped him cope and heal, and inspired him to give back.

The organization asked Ryan to volunteer with them, and later offered him a job as a victim advocate. Accompanying victims’ families to murder trials, holding support meetings, organizing summer camps for children who lost loved ones to homicide, and other acts of kindness enabled him to harness the passion for helping others which was born out of his personal tragedy.

Helping Families of Cold-Case Murder Victims

Ten years later, the murder of Ryan’s father remains unsolved, and the case has gone cold. With no suspects and very little physical evidence, Ryan and his family are still searching for closure.

Although there are a number of organizations locally and across the country that help victims of violent crimes or murder, there are hardly any that focus on unsolved cases. Ryan and his wife set out to keep the memory of his father, as well as the memories of other murder victims whose cases have gone cold, alive by establishing Project: Cold Case. Formally launched in January 2015, Project: Cold Case works with families, law enforcement, and the media to inform members of the public about homicide cold cases, and ask for their assistance in solving them.

When someone loses a loved one to murder, they are stripped of control, which makes the grieving process even more difficult and complex. Project: Cold Case was established as a way to help families take back some of that control by bringing their loved ones’ cases to public attention.

One of the unintended consequences of Project: Cold Case was the creation of an online database with details about cold cases which occurred prior to the advent of the Internet. Now, not only are the stories of those victims kept alive, but members of the public who might know something now have a place online to go and make contact.

The Project: Cold Case database now includes information about more than 23,000 unsolved murders from around the country. The organization posts details about cases on social media, works with members of the media to produce TV and newspaper stories about them, and connects family members with contacts in law enforcement. Ryan’s experience enables him to serve as an effective mediator between victims’ families and law enforcement and facilitate mutual understanding which allows both sides to work together toward the common goal of bringing murderers to justice.

Partnering with Project: Cold Case

My family and I are honored to be in a position to help Ryan and his dedicated tram at Project: Cold Case team to assist bereaved families throughout the nation. We first connected with Ryan after he heard me speak at the unveiling of a memorial to fallen police officers in Jacksonville which we sponsored.

The financial support Project: Cold Case receives from the Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation will allow Ryan and his team to meet with families, and publicize cases, outside of Florida. Our support also provides funding for expensive tests at private laboratories. Most local law enforcement organizations send evidence in murder investigations to state laboratories, which too often do not possess the top-of-the-line equipment or capabilities to perform genealogical and other cutting-edge tests for solving cases.

Some of these tests can cost $5,000 or more apiece, and even though certain private labs give Project: Cold Case a special nonprofit discount, testing remains a major expense for the organization. The Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation’s contributions enable Project: Cold Case to expand this program and pay for more tests which could solve cold murder cases.

Ryan and his team are also looking to create multimedia case spotlights consisting of a minute or minute-and-a-half video with photos and voiceovers, and the Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation’s support will allow this initiative to get off the ground.

For Ryan and his team, a meaningful return on investment is a bereaved family knowing someone cares and wants to help them. But in addition to keeping hope alive for families whose loved ones were lost in unsolved murders, solving these cold cases is a public safety imperative. As Ryan is quick to point out, the man who murdered his father could be living near a school bus stop or community park.

We are grateful for the opportunity to help Project: Cold Case reach the one person out there who can finally crack an unsolved case and bring long overdue closure to a victim’s loved ones.