A group of New York artists are using their skills and technology to help in the identification of migrants who are deceased or go missing after leaving their home countries. The artists are using sculpture and 3D imaging technology to turn skulls into images they hope will help family members identify their loved ones.
Sculptors from the New York Academy of Art recently fashioned 3D facial reconstructions of eight men whose remains were recovered after they died while illegally crossing the U.S. border with Mexico, the Guardian reported. The skulls are held in the Pima County, Arizona, medical examiner’s office because officials are unable to identify the victims.
In addition to sculptures, the art students are employing 3D technology to create images using information provided by medical examiners, including the estimated height, weight, gender, nationality, and ages of the missing migrants. Following the creation of the likeness of the deceased, photographs are taken and the information is sent to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).
The Guardian reported that since 2000, 1,004 people remain unidentified after being found dead in Pima County. Officials were able to identify more than 1,800 from the remains found in the Arizona desert during the same period.
From the Guardian:
Such work is not easy. The students must accurately depict a once-living person, using only their skull. To do this, they follow basic rules of anatomy. For example, a small change of direction on the mastoid process, a bony projection behind the ear, indicates whether a person has detached or attached earlobes. A hairline notch in the nose can signify a deviated septum or injury; the span from the brow of the nose to its end is always the same as that from the top to the bottom of the ears.
“If we can’t raise any other leads in any other way, then putting a face on a skull is usually a positive thing to do,” Pima County Medical Examiner Bruce Anderson told the news outlet.
“We provide answers to families,” he continued. “They are very painful answers, but they are answers owed to families. In our office here, we make no distinction between American citizens and foreign nationals in doing everything we can to identify a person and determine a cause of death.”
The forensic sculpture class began in 2015 when Joe Mullins, an 18-year veteran of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, wanted to create a program to use these skills and technology to help families by reuniting them with their deceased loved ones. Since that time, his five-day classes helped identify skulls stored in the New York medical examiner’s office. He then shifted his focus to the crisis of border crossing deaths.
“Just because they died trying to come here that doesn’t mean they should lose their identity,” Mullins explained.
Mullins said it becomes very clear when the work is done on one of the facial reconstruction projects.
Southern Arizona is not the only place where unidentified migrant remains stack up in the offices of medical examiners.
Since 2006, more than 600 bodies or sets of remains of migrants have been found in Brooks County, Texas.
“The coyotes who attempt to smuggle these people around the Falfurrias Border Patrol Checkpoint are ruthless,” Brooks County Sheriff Benny Martinez told Breitbart Texas during a November 2016 interview. “If anyone becomes injured, dehydrated, or exhausted, and can’t keep up, they simply abandon them and leave them to die.”
“This is a very dangerous trek these immigrants take as they attempt to circumvent the Border Patrol’s inland checkpoint,” Martinez explained.
In October 2017, Breitbart Texas reported on CNN’s Chris Cuomo after he highlighted the efforts in South Texas to help identify these deceased migrants. During an episode of Inside with Chris Cuomo on CNN’s Headline News, Cuomo spoke with Webb County, Texas, Medical Examiner Dr. Corinne Stern. Her office is tasked with identifying the remains of migrants found not only in Brooks County, but other smaller counties extending as far as Del Rio.
By the time remains of the deceased migrants reach her office, there is frequently not much to work with in identifying the remains and reuniting them with their families.
“Even with all the helicopters, sensors, and manpower, by the time they find the migrants in this inhospitable terrain — it is often too late,” Dr. Sterns stated.
“We have seen 109 migrant deaths as of today,” Sterns told Breitbart Texas during an October 24 interview. “In addition to the 43 from Brooks County, 42 were found here in Webb County. Starr County had 10, Dimmit had 5, and the remainder came from Jim Hogg, Zapata, Maverick, Kenedy, and Val Verde counties.”
Dr. Stern discussed the time it takes to identify the remains of the migrants with Cuomo. She says it often takes up to five months to get DNA results. Stern tries to use other methods to find their identities more quickly.
She then took Cuomo to two large coolers where the remains of 52 migrants are being stored until she receives DNA results from the FBI.
While the efforts of Stern, the artists in New York, and others tasked with identifying these remains continue, thousands of families are left with the painful thought that their loved one may never be found or identified.