Ethan A. Ristow went on to speak about his son, Ethan B. Ristow, a 38-year-old man who has been missing since August 2021. He was last seen in the desert near the border of Fountain Hills, Arizona. At the time of his disappearance, he was with his wife and two sons and became separated from his family and has not been seen since. Ethan A. Ristow continues his tireless searches for his son, and has started a YouTube channel in an effort to bring greater public awareness.

New College alumna Sarah Turney was the final speaker during the morning session. Sarah is the sister of Alissa Turney, a 17-year-old woman who went missing in May 2001. Sarah, the host of podcasts Voices for Justice and Disappearances, spoke about the power of social media in missing persons cases.

After searching for answers in her sister's case for years, Sarah took to TikTok in the hopes that the case would gain media exposure. Her videos began going viral and with a renewed public interest in Alissa’s case, an arrest was made in August of 2020.

Following the individual speakers, attendees had the opportunity to ask questions during a live Q&A panel discussion.

Students and organizations dedicated to finding answers

In addition to hearing directly from families impacted by cold cases, attendees also heard from students and organizations working on cold cases.

Brayden Johnson, an undergraduate student from Purdue University, shared work he had done on a cold case and what he learned from the experience via Zoom. In a course taught by Hans, Johnson researched the cold case of Janet Shirar, the great aunt of his fiancée who was murdered in 1980. Through this experience, Johnson was able to uncover new details in the case 

“It wasn't just about finding any information. It was about finding information that had been overlooked or needed a new pair of eyes — something that could push the investigation even an inch toward a solution,” Johnson said.

The final speaker of the day was Ryan Backmann, the founder of Project: Cold Case, an organization based out of Jacksonville, Florida. Project: Cold Case was founded in 2015, after Backmann’s father was murdered in 2009. The organization works with families around the U.S. who have lost loved ones in a cold case to provide resources and support. Over 1,000 cases have been submitted by families and law enforcement to be featured on the Project: Cold Case website.

Continued collaboration to heighten awareness

Moving forward, the event organizers said they plan to hold the Cold Case Symposium annually as part of New College’s commitment to leading the way in the forensic sciences. 

“The first Cold Case Symposium hosted here at ASU’s West campus was an incredible experience and I am proud that I was able to host this event with friends and colleagues,” Weidner said. “This event was an opportunity to share knowledge and experience with attendees who had a common goal — supporting these cases and raising awareness. I am looking forward to growing this event and seeing the positive impact that can come from it.”

New College currently offers several degrees in forensic sciences that take an interdisciplinary and practical approach, including bachelor’s degrees in forensic science, forensic psychology and computational forensics as well as master’s degrees in forensic science and forensic psychology

Since 2016, New College has granted nearly 900 degrees in forensic science, forensic psychology and computational forensics.

Emily Balli

Multimedia specialist, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences