Local Organization Brings Awareness To Unsolved Cases

Published: Sept. 30, 2020

Imagine losing a loved one and not getting any answers. How would you feel if law enforcement decided to move on to another case? Project: Cold Case gives cases of unsolved murders and disappearances a second chance of exposure to the public.

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Project: Cold Case is a Jacksonville-based nonprofit organization that highlights cases that have fallen from law enforcement priority lists. Ryan Backman, the founder of Project Cold Case, developed a passion for highlighting cold cases after his father’s homicide, which remains unsolved over a decade later. 

 Photo of Ryan Backman. Courtesy of Jonathan Melancon.

“In October 2009, my dad, Cliff Backman, was shot and killed in a robbery here in Jacksonville and his case went cold,” Backman said. “I decided to switch careers, became a victim advocate for families that have lost loved ones to homicide.”

According to Backman, cases may go cold for many reasons, but once a case receives that status, the families begin to lose hope. Some law enforcement agencies have cold case divisions; however, lack of manpower, funding, and evidence are contributing factors to keeping cases from becoming a priority. 

“One of the biggest things you deal with is that families start to think that no one remember their loved one and no one cares,” Backman said.

Project: Cold Case does not actively seek cases that have gone cold. Rather, families of the victims reach out to Backman to highlight their loved ones’ cases. Family members will provide details of the victim including their personality, accomplishments, and details surrounding the victim’s homicide or disappearance. Backman says he understands that families grieve in their own way so it may be difficult for families to talk about their loved ones. 

“It is helpful that I have been through something similar, so we have that bond automatically,” Backman said. “As long as someone cares, then families are more than willing to open up and share their stories. They truly appreciate the help.”

Project: Cold Case has helped with a number of cold case arrests by keeping the public aware. Particularly with old cases, the technological advances of DNA testing became essential. In many cases, all the investigator needs is that one witness to come forward. 

Recently, Project: Cold Case featured a robbery-homicide from 1974 that has been solved more than 40 years later. 

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“Our job is not to go out and try to solve these cases,” Backman stated. “Our jobs are to bring awareness to the public and make sure these people are not lost or forgotten. We always keep up with the families because we want them to know we care.”

Project: Cold Case has become a bridge for families to connect to one another. What started as a man’s vision to advocate for unsolved cases has become a beacon of hope for families to preserve the memory of their loved ones. Backman has turned his grief from losing his father into a symbol of light from a dark situation. As a result, some families have been able to get the justice they have long fought for.