9 On Your Side Border Watch
Federal database: Arizona third in number of unidentified remains
Pima County morgue found way to deal with summer spike in migrant deaths
Reporter: Claire Doan
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – A federal database ranks Arizona the third in the nation for the most unidentified remains. Many of them are border crossers who died months, years or even decades ago.
According to the federal National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database, Arizona’s more than 1,000 human remains trail behind only California and New York.
The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office told 9 On Your Side there have been 92 migrant deaths since the beginning of 2012. There were 88 deaths this time last year.
“It’s busy again this summer. The reason it’s busy is because of migrant deaths – the heat that we have every year,” said Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Greg Hess.
Hess said in past years the county morgue ran out of storage space for the bodies and had to use the outside cooler.
But the office started charging a recent fee late last summer for storage space, for those keep the bodies at the morgue past a certain amount of time.
“Trying to get those counties to pick up those remains has been a problem from time to time, but it’s better now,” Hess said.
Hess said they haven’t charged anyone a dime, but the fee has provided incentive for various counties to more quickly inter the unidentified remains. And it allows his office to focus on more pressing problems, like identifying 130 bodies in storage right now - and may allow them to keep the cooler on for the summer months only.
Investigators use various clues to identify remains, including the color and any breakage of the bones; the teeth fillings; and belongings discovered near the remains.
The federal government has pointed to a drop in apprehensions along the border, but Dr. Hess said the number of desert deaths – although affected by weather – has stayed relatively stable over the years.