Texas State students help ID remains of border crossers - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Texas State students help ID remains of border crossers

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Students at Texas State University are helping law enforcement agencies identify the remains of dozens of undocumented border crossers.

They're known as "unidentified crossers."

"I think they have been overwhelmed. They went from 29 deaths in 2011 to 129 in 2012," said Dr. Kate Spradley, an Associate Professor at Texas State University.

She's talking about Brooks County, Texas.

Spradley added, "They have the highest reported increase in migrant fatalities in the past year."

So far this year, 76 illegal aliens have been discovered in Brooks, which is one county removed from the Texas-Mexico border.

"This is really kind of a joint venture project with Baylor University. Dr. Laurie Baker at Baylor University did all the exhumations of these bodies," said Dr. Daniel Wescott, who is also with the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State.

He says the University of Indianapolis is helping too.

Out of the 63 bodies exhumed in Brooks County, 49 of them are in San Marcos, where students are working to try and determine their identities.

Spradley said, "There are layers and layers of Texas Criminal Code that specify what you're supposed to do and it wasn't being done."

This is the "Unidentified Persons" section of the Texas Criminal Code. It requires DNA samples to be taken and submitted for analysis and inclusion of the results into the DNA database.

"But these remains, at our lab, have not undergone DNA analysis or anthropological examination or been analyzed by a medical examiner," Spradley added.

Reps with the Brooks County Sheriff's Office say they've been dealing with a steady decline in taxable value since 2007.

In 2012, they spent about $200,000 on undocumented crosser related costs and $110,000 so far this year.

"All of the DNA analyses are free. All of the anthropological analyses are free. So, even if you are strapped for cash, all of these resources are free."Spradley explained. "The University of North Texas Health Sciences Center will generate the STR profile, the DNA profile, for free and they can put it into a large database that could hopefully, someday, be compared to a family reference sample to identify the individual."

The bodies arrived with personal items, clothes, jewelry and in one case, a fake identification card.

Spradley said, "If they're kidnapped by drug cartel, drug cartel could go to their families and try to extort money."

None of the bodies exhumed in Brooks County have been identified as of yet.

The remains of the undocumented crossers are not treated like the bodies donated to Texas State for science. The students only work on them to try and discover the person's identity.

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