Posted: Feb 6, 2014 9:29 PM
Updated: Feb 6, 2014 10:42 PM
FALFURRIAS - Forensics students took on the task of trying to identify the remains of illegal immigrants buried in paupers' graves in Brooks County.
The students exhumed 63 bodies last year from the graves. Those remains are now at forensic laboratories at universities in Texas and Indiana.
Researchers now are close to matching a set of skeletal remains to a missing woman. One more DNA test is needed to make a positive identification.
The woman's remains were discovered on June, 28, 2012, at La Cantinita Ranch.
"We want to be able to return that person to their family," said Dr. Krista Latham, assistant professor at the University of Indianapolis.
The woman's remains were bagged and placed in a plywood box. She was buried at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Falfurrias under a marker with the words, "Unknown Female, 0425."
"We want them to celebrate their life. Have a proper burial and have some closure," Latham said.
The remains were taken to the Freeman Ranch outside San Marcos. The site is a state-state-of-the-art forensics facility.
"People have human rights in life and in death. And all of these people deserve a chance to be identified and returned to their families," said Dr. Kate Spradley, associate professor at Texas State University.
Spradley oversees the efforts to identify the remains.
Everything is meticulously catalogued.
"As we go through personal effects, it humanizes who these people are. It tells us something about them," Spradley said.
The process is especially significant for one student.
"I was born in Juarez," Texas State University forensics student Ileene Vicencio said.
"I know why people want to come over here," she said.
"My parents didn't want us to live (in Mexico). They wanted to provide a better life for us," Vicencio said.
Case 0425 is in Vicencio's hands. She doesn't leave out any details when it's time to transcribe notes from fellow students. The notes describe the woman's skeletal remains and her long, black hair. The students also label a few personal effects - a bag of chips, a toothbrush and some bug repellant.
"You begin to learn about them just from what they carry with them," Vicencio said.
A Honduran identification card was also was found in a shoe. Dr. Spradley says the skeletal remains don't correspond with the features of the woman in the identification.
The identification card suggested that the bones belonged to a 38-year-old woman, but science proved otherwise.
"What you see here, this crest is fusing to the iliac blade, which typically is indicative of somebody in their mid 20s," Spradley said.
"This is not completely fused. That's probably going to be a fake ID," she said.
The setback does not mean the case comes to a standstill.
"We will continue to go forward. We will take DNA samples and hopefully exclude this person to make sure it is not a match," Spradley said.
The woman's description matched the profile of a missing woman last seen alive in Brooks County. A DNA sample is ready, but there is nothing for comparison. A matching sample may be somewhere in Central America.
"Usually, in this line of work, you try to distance yourself from the case. In this case, you really can't. You think about who these people are. They're somebody's brother, sister, or mother or daughter. These are the things we think about when we do that work," Spradley said.
Spradley on Thursday reached out to consulates in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.