On August 5, officers from the Brooks County Sheriff's Department found a woman's body 20 miles from Highway 281, not far from Falfurrias. It had been out in the desert for weeks, exposed to the effects of the sun, wind and scavengers. A small pile of women's clothes were found neatly folded next to the corpse. The only identification nearby was a piece of paper with a list of phone numbers on it. This discovery raised a grave question: Was this the body of 32-year-old Caridad Ramirez*, missing since July? The scientists at the Bio-Synthesis DNA Identity Testing Center would attempt to answer.
Ramirez and her family are originally from Central America. Some weeks before Caridad went missing, Ernesto Fuentes had brought his and Caridad's two children to live with him in Texas. Because he and Ramirez were not married, she did not have any legal means of accompanying them to the U.S., so in the summer of this year she took the risk of hiring a coyote, a smuggler who promised to bring her across the border. She left two months early so that she could meet her children when they completed their shorter legal journey.
Ramirez left home with no guarantees of a safe arrival. Many people who attempt to enter the U.S. illegally do not complete the trip. In addition to the physical dangers of crossing the desert, corrupt coyotes can abandon, rob, rape or even kidnap their clients. So when, several weeks after Ramirez's departure from Central America, her sister Esperanza received a phone call, they both must have thought that the worst was over. Caridad told Esperanza that she had made it to McAllen, Texas and would be joining the rest of the family soon.
Then three days passed and Ms. Ramirez sent no more messages. Esperanza contacted the coyote, who said that the police had probably caught Caridad and deported her. Her anxiety mounting, Esperanza called the police and immigration office, both of which informed her that they did not have her sister in custody. After a careful search, the police discovered a woman's body of Caridad Ramirez's age and height.
Based on the clothes and phone numbers, the police were relatively confident that this was Ms. Ramirez's body, but Esperanza needed to be sure. Someone could have borrowed or stolen Caridad's clothes with the list tucked in a pocket.
Esperanza instructed the morgue to collect samples from the body and contacted DNAExam. On August 24, the DNA Identity Testing Center received a tooth, finger tissue, nails and bone from the dead woman. Three days later, the results were ready.
The identification was not an easy one. "The condition of the tooth was very bad," says DNAExam Senior Scientist Kien Tjhen. "The condition of the bone was worse than the tooth. [...] I extracted the tooth just for my confirmation about the quality and condition of the sample. Sure enough, I got nothing from the tooth sample and I got a full DNA profile from the tissue sample." This profile was compared to samples taken of Ramirez's two children, showing with over 99% that the dead woman was indeed their mother.
Caridad Ramirez's body was released to the Texas funeral home where her family had decided to have her remains cremated. We can only imagine the grief that Ms. Ramirez's sister and children must feel, but at least they can be certain that it is not a stranger's ashes resting in Caridad's funeral urn.
The DNA Identity Testing Center is a division of Bio-Synthesis Inc, headquartered in Lewisville, Texas. The DNA Identity Testing Center is an active member of the AABB Relationship Accreditation Program and participates in proficiency testing through the College of American Pathologists.
|* All personal names have been changed to protect the family's privacy
|For further information, please contact:
Heidi Fazeli, Sales Director, Bio-Synthesis Incorporated (800) 227-0627