ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WNCN) – Forensic imaging specialists are working to put a face with an unidentified child using only skeletal remains.

At the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, imaging specialists spend countless hours bringing life back to skeletal remains in hopes of finding the names of these “John and Jane Does.”

“The process of facial reconstruction comes with a huge emotional impact as most of the things we do here,” said Joe Mullins, forensic imaging specialist.

Mullins said he will return from lunch at times to find a FedEx box with a skull inside. An aspect of the job he described as “horrible.”

Mullins said facial reconstruction is a collaborate effort between art and science.

First, a forensic anthropologist must examine the skull.

“Everything about you in your face is etched into your skull. Everything from the projection of your nose, the width of your nose, the placement of your eyelids,” Mullins said. “How the fold goes over your eyelids, your eyebrows, your hairline. Do you have attached or detached slit earlobes? The thickness of your lips. Everything about you is etched into your skull.”

Mullins said a person’s ethnicity, gender and age are all able to be determined from their skull.

The forensic anthropologist then relays that information to the forensic artist and reconstruction begins.

“That relationship has to be a good one to come up with an accurate image. That’s where you have no artistic license, you have to stick with that assessment the forensic anthropologist has given you to come up with the correct face to put on that skull,” Mullins said.

Years ago, forensic imaging specialists would apply glue to a skull and physically sculpt clay onto the surface of the skull.

That process could take more than a week to complete.

But now everything is done digitally.

“With technology we can facilitate getting a CT scan done of a skull,” Mullins said. “It speeds the process up, cuts the time in half and you could probably finish one in two or three days.”

There are some characteristics a skull will not reveal such as skin tone and eye color.

This is why most constructions are in black and white.

“I stop when I see somebody staring back at me,” Mullins said.

Once the facial reconstruction is complete, the forensic anthropologist has to give his or her final approval.

The image is then posted on the center’s website, along with pictures of any artifacts and clothing associated with the child when he or she was found.

The center then targets the area where the body was found, working closely with law enforcement.

“Just because a body is found in North Carolina, doesn’t mean they’re from North Carolina,” Mullins said.

“Hundreds have been ID’d, several hundred are still waiting for confirmation. We’re going to keep doing them and doing them until there are no more out there.”