Five sets of skeletal remains were uncovered in the Arizona desert on the Tohono O’Odham reservation. The Pima County Medical Examiner announced that they will examine the remains.
While the remains were found in an area commonly used for smuggling between the United States and Mexico, authorities have said they were hidden in unusual circumstances.
US Border Patrol agents discovered the five sets of remains, partially covered by rocks, on Tuesday near Sells. Chief Medical Examiner Gregory Hess explained:
“It’s not a typical migrant death site. Usually that’s people laying under a tree because it got too hot, and they’re on the surface of the ground and nobody tried to bury them.”
He added, “The remains were partially covered with rocks and we’re not sure if that’s an attempt to hide [them] or if somebody just buried them there for some other reason.” Hess added that foul play is a possibility that has not yet been ruled out.
The Tohono O’Odham Police Department is heading the investigation, since the skeletal remains were discovered in their jurisdiction. The Tucson sector Border Patrol also confirmed the discovery, though it did not comment on the investigation.
Arizona is home to a well trafficked corridor for both drugs and humans from Mexico. While border crossing deaths are fairly common, the circumstances in which the desert remains were found is unusual. It was not clear what state of decomposition the bodies were in when they were discovered on Tuesday. It is also not known if they had any marks on them that flagged the deaths as suspicious.
Border crossing deaths are more common in the summer months when the heat causes dehydration and migrants do not carry sufficient water to make it through the desert.
Hess added that he has not yet determined the gender or age of the skeletal remains found in the desert. He has also not determined their causes of death. Hess explained that autopsies will be performed on the remains next week.
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