53ºF

First ID of immigrant remains in Brooks County

Baylor professor leads mission of Reuniting Families

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Founded by a forensic anthropologist at Baylor University, Reuniting Families has reached a milestone-- its first identification of human remains found in Brooks County, an area notorious for immigrant deaths.

"One person in 110 that now has an identity," said Dr. Lori Baker about the bodies that were exhumed last summer at a small cemetery in Falfurrias. "The family has not been notified because this just happened and the consulate is taking care of that."

She said the remains identified were of a woman who was buried as an "unknown" more than 1,400 miles from her family in Honduras.

Baker has returned to Falfurrias with more than 30 of her forensic students and others from the University of Indianapolis, to continue their jarring, often tedious work in the south Texas heat.

She said after the woman's remains were unearthed by University of Indianapolis students, they were taken to the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University for analysis.

Baker said a biological profile was developed, including the woman's age, stature and geographic region.

She said the information was then submitted to NAMUS, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

"It was compared to everyone in the database and it came back with a high probability match," Baker said.

Luckily, she said, the woman's family was searching for her and had already contacted the Colibri Center for Human Rights in Arizona, which helps find missing immigrants.

Baker said the DNA match was made possible by an Argentinian forensic team in Honduras that collected a sample from the woman's family.

She said the actual analysis had to be done by a private laboratory because the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas cannot accept the family's reference sample because it was not collected by a law enforcement agency.

"You can see the extent of the agencies and how they all had to work together," Baker said.

However, she said, the work must go on for the sake of so many distraught families.

Once families learn the fate of their missing loved one, Baker said they're devastated.

Even so, "They feel they have their loved one back, and that is something worth doing," Baker said.