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Starr Co. Cemetery to Exhume Remains to Identify Bodies

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RIO GRANDE CITY - Some counties will start work to identify unknown bodies buried in many locations across the Rio Grande Valley.

Starr County will be joining the Operation Identification program by the end of spring. They will help in the process of identifying bodies believed to be of people who crossed into the country without authorization.

Starr County resident David Moralez lives next to the Rio Grande City cemetery. He is tasked with cleaning the grounds as a foreman for the county’s cemetery located near Fairgrounds Road.

“It’s kind of sad for the loved ones, you know. Some people they probably don’t even know that their kinfolks are dead. They’re buried already, and they don’t even know it,” he said.

Moralez said a circle of rocks and mounds of gravel show the graves of the unknown.

“I’ve buried some people that nobody knows who they are. They kept on the vault for such a long time. Nobody claims them so we have to bury them,” he said.

He added he usually gives their gravesites a little bit more color.

“Since most of the flowers fly away - those artificial flowers- we’ll pick them, and I’ll tell the guys, ‘Go ahead and put them on the graves of the unknown people,’” he said.

In a couple of months Moralez’s tasks will change. Anthropologists, Texas State University students and the South Texas Human Rights Center will be searching for these unknown identities for Operation Identification.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said he knows of eight unidentified burials. He said many of them are from people drowning in the Rio Grande.

“They want to come and exhume these bodies and hopefully identify some of these bodies that are buried in our cemetery,” he said.

Researchers also said they learned the cemetery might have up to 30 burials since the 80s through interviews with cemetery workers. But Moralez disagrees.

“No, there’s more than that. There’s close to 100 I think or maybe more,” he said.

Vera said the removal of the bodies will help for much-needed room in the cemetery.

“They will be taken back to Texas State University, and the test will be done over there,” he said. “They keep their remains over there, so that will open up some plots. We are running out of space right now,” he said.

Moralez said the county is setting a portion of the cemetery for cremation burials for unidentified people and those who can’t afford a gravesite.

“As long as there’s space we can help them out in any way we can,” he said.

The judge added the county signed an agreement with Hidalgo County to use its coroner to investigate the bodies when needed.

Operation Identification is expected to start at the end of May.

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