Just east of Laredo in the town of Falfurias, TX, the discovery of a mass grave site has turned to the aid of archaeologists and forensic anthropologists to answer questions about the unknown deceased.
According to the town Sheriff, about 10 discoveries of unmarked, unknown skeletal remains had been reported at a local cemetery. These reports sparked the need to bring in archaeologists to properly look for other instances of bodies and identify them. Over a hundred have been discovered so far with remains found in trash bags, shopping bags, body bags, or no containers at all.
In one burial, bones of three bodies were inside a single body bag. In another instance, at least five people in body bags and smaller plastic bags were piled on top of each other. Skulls were found in biohazard bags placed between coffins.
There are varying degrees of decomposition, so anthropologists believe that the bodies were buried relatively recently – possibly within the last 10 years.
“To me it’s just as shocking as the mass grave that you would picture in your head, and it’s just as disrespectful,” said Krista Latham, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Indianapolis.
In 2013, 110 remains were exhumed from the cemetery, and this year volunteers have performed an additional 52 exhumations – but more than 52 people were buried in those spaces.
The bodies are suspected to be those of Central American and Mexican migrants trying to make it into the country. They may have died of exposure while evading Border Patrol checkpoints in remote South Texas, where temperatures reach more than 100 degrees in the summer and there is little water and shade.
The crew is working hard to show their respects to the bodies and identify them in the hopes that they can return the remains to survived families.
The researchers do expect to return next year to continue the investigation and attempt to identify more bodies.
How They Got There
County officials said that for the last 16 years or more, whenever they found bodies in the desert, they were handed over to local funeral home, Funeraria del Angel Howard-Williams. The county paid the funeral home a stipend of $450 each to dispose of the bodies.
Jessica McDunn, a spokesperson for the funeral home’s parent company, Houston-based Service Corporation International, commented: “No matter if this is one of our client families we serve on a traditional basis or a migrant family’s loved one we’re serving and we don’t have any identification of the loved one, I do want to let you know it is our policy to treat the decedent with care, to treat them just like we would treat anyone else.”
Howard-Williams, said McDunn, has records pertaining to the burials, but “this does not amount to confirmation that Howard-Williams was involved in depositing the remains in the manner the researchers described.”