The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

November 4, 2013

Texas scholar's work to ID immigrant corpses is gratifying -- and sad

WACO, Texas — The forensic anthropologist lifted a thighbone from the skeleton arrayed on her metal lab table and studied the fine cracks traversing its surface, gray and weathered as driftwood.

Associate professor Lori Baker, 44, set the bone down and cradled the man’s skull, its silver canines gleaming. She pointed to the eye sockets; they had been pecked, probably by vultures. Baker had recovered the remains from a ranch near the Mexican border. Judging by the skeleton’s size, shape and worn hip joints, she said, it probably belonged to a middle-aged Central American laborer.

Last year, U.S. border officials saw a significant increase in migrant deaths to 463, the second-highest total in 15 years; more than half were in Texas, often without identification.

Many Texas counties do not have medical examiners, so identifying the dead falls to the justice of the peace or funeral homes. Some can’t afford the expense of identifying the dead. In one county that has seen a sharp rise in such deaths, it costs at least $750 to transport remains, and another $2,000 for an autopsy.

Baker has made it her mission to meet the need, driven as much by faith as by science.

She opened a lab in 2002 at Baylor University in Waco and assembled scientists and a rotating cast of students who over the last decade have analyzed and extracted DNA from 278 sets of remains and identified 70 of them.

Last summer, Baker and her students took a trip south, expecting to excavate about two dozen migrant remains; instead, they recovered about 120.

She still remembers her first case. In 2003, Pima County, Ariz., had seen a growing number of Mexican immigrants dying in the desert. Baker offered to help. The bones had been found near a voter registration card, which the local consulate used to track down a family who volunteered saliva for DNA samples. Baker extracted DNA from the bones, and it matched.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
State, national news
  • Congress racing to finish Congress races to finish veterans, highway bills

    July 31, 2014

  • Target New CEO [Duplicate] Target names Pepsi's Cornell as chairman, CEO MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Target has hired Pepsi executive Brian Cornell as its new chairman and CEO as it looks to recover from a huge data breach and troubles in Canada. Cornell replaces interim CEO John Mulligan, who is chief financial officer for the M

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Brain wave monitoring is better gauge than using a focus group, study says To predict a large population’s likely response to something — a product, politician or policy — political consultants, marketing gurus and advertising execs have long favored the focus group. Ask a small segment of the target audience what it thinks

    July 31, 2014

  • Argentina slides into default as debt talks fail NEW YORK (AP) — The collapse of talks with U.S. creditors sent Argentina into its second debt default in 13 years and raised questions about what comes next for financial markets and the South American nation's staggering economy. A midnight Wednesd

    July 31, 2014

  • Exchange Bee Researcher [Duplicate] Bee researcher takes aim at central Minnesota park WAITE PARK — Crystal Boyd strained four bees, three flies and one leafhopper from a yellow pan trap, the third of 12 in a transect topping a granite outcrop in Quarry Park Scientific and Natural Area.She popped everything into a labeled, zip-top plas

    July 31, 2014 4 Photos

  • Cinema verite documentarian Robert Drew dies at 90 Filmmaker Robert Drew, a pioneer of the modern documentary who in "Primary" and other movies mastered the intimate, spontaneous style known as cinema verite and schooled a generation of influential directors that included D.A. Pennebaker and Albert M

    July 30, 2014

  • Homeowner killed, another injured in Vegas crime spree LAS VEGAS — A horrific carjacking and home invasion spree ended with two people dead and a woman in critical condition. One victim, Richard Ramos, a 59-year-old father of four, “fought to his death” to protect his wife and children from their attack

    July 30, 2014

  • Officer Shooting Minnesota-9 [Duplicate] UPDATE: Suspect in Minnesota officer killing in custody WEST ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Police in Minnesota say a man wanted in the shooting death of an officer is in custody after being shot by police. St. Paul police spokesman Sgt. Paul Paulos says 39-year-old Brian Fitch Sr. got out of a minivan firing at

    July 30, 2014 4 Photos

  • Officer Shooting Minnesota-3 [Duplicate] Minnesota officer killed making traffic stop WEST ST. PAUL (AP) — A police officer in Minnesota was fatally shot Wednesday while making a traffic stop and authorities said they were searching for a suspect. Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick, 47, was shot about 12:20 p.m. after pulli

    July 30, 2014 2 Photos

  • Possible suspect caught in Minnesota cop shooting WEST ST. PAUL (AP) — A potential suspect in the shooting of a police officer in Minnesota has been captured. Minnesota Public Radio News reports that the officer was killed. Television news footage showed the man being pulled from his vehicle Wednes

    July 30, 2014