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Brooks County burials lead to State Capitol briefing

State Sen. Jesus Hinojosa launches inquiry to find responsible parties

The initial outrage over erroneous reports of mass graves has turned into an uproar over improper burials of immigrants at a South Texas cemetery.
The initial outrage over erroneous reports of mass graves has turned into an uproar over improper burials of immigrants at a South Texas cemetery.

AUSTIN, Texas – The outrage over inaccurate reports of mass graves in a Falfurrias cemetery has turned into an uproar over improper burials of immigrant remains.

As a result, state Sen. Jesus Hinojosa, Dist. 20, arranged a briefing Tuesday at the State Capitol.

Forensic science students on an annual mission in early June to exhume immigrant bodies in hopes of identifying them had reported finding an unknown number of co-mingled remains in the same body bags or even trash bags.

Their professor, Dr. Lori Baker, a forensic anthropologist, said, "We've seen these unusual burials throughout the cemetery."

But Baker said she's seen similar burials in other cemeteries due to lack of space.

"What happened?" Hinojosa asked. "Was there negligence here? Was there criminal wrongdoing? We don't know."

Hinojosa said he has launched an inquiry to find out who was responsible.

Brooks County Judge Raul Ramirez, who was at the meeting, said the commissioners court will decide Wednesday whether to ask the district attorney to call on the Texas Rangers.

Ramirez said many people are angry over how the remains were buried.

"They want answers, and we're going to do everything to give them answers," Ramirez said.

Service Corporation International, the Houston-based company that owns the Falfurrias home that did the burials, did address the specific findings.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the company said, "The deaths of these individuals are tragic and difficult on many levels. For years now, Howard-Williams Funeral Home has worked closely with federal and local officials to handle these situations. We believe that all human remains should be handled with dignity, care and respect.

"We applaud the efforts to identify next-of-kin and repatriate remains where possible. However, it is an unfortunate reality that some percentage of these remains will simply be unidentifiable despite the best efforts of the Medical Examiner's Office and others."