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Identifying The Nameless: Advancing The Science Of Human Decomposition To Identify Deceased Migrants

Forensic anthropologist Kate Spradley holds the shirt of a deceased Salvadoran migrant. The shirt's discovery set off a chain of events that ended with the successful but rare DNA confirmation of a migrant who perished in Texas after crossing the U.S.- Mexico border. (Lorne Matalon)

Forensic anthropologist Kate Spradley holds the shirt of a deceased Salvadoran migrant. The shirt’s discovery set off a chain of events that ended with the successful but rare DNA confirmation of a migrant who perished in Texas after crossing the U.S.- Mexico border. (Lorne Matalon)

A version of this two-part story aired on the Texas Standard, KUT Austin

Part One

Part Two

SAN MARCOS, Texas — Brooks County, Texas, — 70 miles north of the United States-Mexico border — has seen at least 365 migrant deaths since 2011.

Forensic anthropologists in Texas and Arizona are working to identify these migrants and repatriate their remains.

Behind an electronic gate accessed by a key card on a bucolic farm in central Texas, 100 cadavers donated for research by U.S. citizens lie on the ground in different stages of decomposition.

Forensic anthropologist Kate Spradley heads a relatively new project called Operation ID at Texas State University’s Forensic Anthropology Center.

Markers once tied to deceased migrants' bodies form a makeshift graveyard. The markers note what clues were gleaned after the bodies were discovered. (Kate Spradley)

Markers once tied to deceased migrants’ bodies form a makeshift graveyard. The markers note what clues were gleaned after the bodies were discovered. (Kate Spradley)

“When someone dies on U.S. soil, it is our responsibility to identify that person,” she said while walking in the shade where cadavers lay on the ground, protected by metal screens.

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