The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

November 4, 2013

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


“I came home and told my husband we need to do something about this,” she said.

Around the same time in 2002, Baylor officials called her about a job.

Baylor is a conservative, Baptist university where Scriptures carved into the science building remind professors, “By Him all things are made.”

When Baker was interviewed, she told college officials she planned to teach evolution and study remains of those who likely had crossed the border illegally. In addition, she was converting to Catholicism, her husband’s religion. That didn’t trouble Baylor administrators. They just wanted a skilled, Christian anthropologist.

“I feel driven by my faith to do the work I do,” Baker said.

At Baylor, with help from her husband, Baker created a database and the Reuniting Families program to gather DNA samples from relatives of the missing and compare them with unidentified remains. The database included DNA records, descriptions of remains, where they were found and objects found with them.

As Baker’s team made progress, it heard from relatives who were grateful for closure, for bones to bury and graves to visit. She also worked with the Mexican government to expand its new database of unidentified remains found along the border.

Wondering how loved ones disappeared can be as torturous as knowing they died, sometimes more so, Baker said. The mother of a 15-year-old who disappeared after leaving Mexico for the U.S. years ago still paces his room, longing for news, she said.

“I’ve had families who call, still looking after 25 years,” Baker said.



After the federal government launched its own database in 2005 for identifying remains, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, known as NamUS. Baker decided to take some time off. She was expecting a third son.

“I needed a break,” she said.

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