Digging for Unidentified Human Remains

RIO GRANDE CITY, TX - Every day migrants take a chance to reach the ‘American Dream.’

This may be a difficult journey for many. Unfortunately, some may die along the way.

For the past decades, unidentified migrant remains were buried in cemeteries without a trace of who they were.

Some get flowers, some receive special a special ceremony, and some may event get a lonely friend to visit their grave. Then there are those that get nothing. There are bodies buried in some parts of the state who have never been identified. That’s what brought us to the Rio Grande City Cemetery. Volunteers will gather at this cemetery for several days to dig. They’re looking for unidentified human remains.

Kate Spradley, PhD from Texas State University says, “We spent about 2 years gathering information from local informants and county officials to figure out where presumed migrants are buried within star county.”

In 2013, Dr. Spradley, Students from Texas State University and the University of Indianapolis have been working on a similar project out of Brooks County. Starting May 22, 2017, they visit Starr County. In the upcoming years they hope to visit Cameron and Willacy Counties. 

“The problem is there is no centralized system,” says Spradley, “The Texas Criminal code of procedures states that every unidentified bodies are supposed to have anthropology or autopsy and a DNA sample submitted to a federal database. That happens in some counties, for some people, but it doesn’t happen for all counties.”

The excavation teams are formed by undergraduate and graduate students.
Krista E. Letham, PhD from the University of Indianapolis says, “They’re taking some of the forensic skills they’ve learned in a classroom and applying them in a real-world situation.”

In March of this year the teams used ground penetrating radar to identify sites where bodies could be located.
The gravesites may have been forgotten and no records of what’s underneath may exist as a result.
“That could mean six people it could mean 10 people. We won’t really know until we get down there and expose everything,” says Spradley.

The exhumation could take days, identification even longer. Regardless this team’s efforts could help bring closure to a family who lost a loved one.


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