Following a Trail of Skeletons and Trying to Identify Them

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Identification Process

The bodies Baker and her students have exhumed and collected from the mortuary are being stored at Baylor University and Texas State, which has a state-of-the art lab where students have been processing remains and writing case reports.

Much of the work right now has been cleaning skeletal remains, Baker said, before the long process of DNA analysis can begin.

"In order to get them into the National Missing Persons database, we have to have a biological profile," Baker said. "We're going to determine male, female, stature, some estimates of who they would have been in life."

To do this, Baker said any remaining soft tissue and ligaments have to be removed so the skeletal measurements, which can tell age and ethnicity, can be taken.

Sabrina Lacruz, 21, who graduated in May from Baylor with a degree in forensic anthropology, said she did similar field work last summer. She came along for the exhumations in May and is planning on visiting the lab at Texas State University in July to help on the Brooks County project.

"If you were able to look at the remains, you wouldn't see any features," Lacruz said. "The soft tissue that remains, not much can be learned from it. We need to get the DNA."

Jennifer Husak, a senior at Baylor, said much of her time so far has been spent trying to match case reports written by the Brooks County Sheriff's Office to each set of remains.

"I'll lay the skeleton out in an anatomical position and take an inventory to see what bones we have, what bones are missing," she said. "Sometimes we don't get a complete skeleton back because animals get to them."

While the process to put names to the dead may be long, or even impossible in some cases, Baker, who has a decade of experience working on undocumented border cases, said what motivates her is helping families find peace.

"They'll say, 'Now we have a place to pray, a place to go and be with my son or daughter,'" she said.

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