Based on clues gathered from her bones, an unidentified female's age is estimated to be somewhere between late teens and early 20s. She was buried in a shallow grave in a Texas county an hour north from the border.
Brooks County is about four hours from Texas State University in San Marcos, the university working with Texas law enforcement agencies to identify the remains of suspected immigrants. Baylor University and the University of Indianapolis exhume the bodies and deliver them to Freeman Ranch in San Marcos, Texas for identification.
"Coyotes [guides that charge a high fee to help smuggle people across the border] take them only so far," said Dr. Kate Spradley, associate professor of anthropology at Texas State. "They tell them 'Houston is just a few miles that way,' and leave them. [The immigrants] don't realize it's a two or three day trip."
According to the United States Border Patrol, 272 deaths were reported in Texas during 2012; the Rio Grande Valley, which includes Brooks County, had the most deaths at 150, an increase from the 66 deaths in 2011. Many die of hypothermia and exposure.
There are 12 bodies that have been processed and volunteers are creating biological profiles for each body according to Dr. Spradley.
None of the remains at Freeman Ranch have been identified.
A firefighter throws a bag into the cascading water of the San Marcos River as a group of participants are roped to shore.
This and other rescue drills are performed as part of the Citizens Fire Academy, which began its third annual 12-week program in August. The academy is intended to educate San Marcos residents on jobs firefighters perform in the community, according to the San Marcos Fire Department’s website. The academy is free to San Marcos residents 18 or older who “meet program criteria, including a criminal background check,” according to the SMFD website. Cadets range from city officials to university employees who meet 6 to 9 p.m. every Monday and four Saturdays during the course of the program.
The Citizens Fire Academy runs from August to November with a graduation ceremony honoring the cadets’ hard work.
“We want to educate the public on what we do,” said Capt. Howie Minor, who has been with SMFD for 23 years. “(They learn) what’s involved in being a firefighter.”
Previous classes had a capacity of 15, but this class is the largest in all three years of the program’s history, Minor said.
“There are a few on the waitlist for next year,” Minor said.
Minor said Fire Chief Les Stephens has shown interest in adding a second class in the future.
The focus of the Sept. 9 class was to bring attention to the dangerous job of swift water rescue, a type of saving that is not taught in the fire academy, Horton said. The lesson was then put into action Saturday at the Rio Vista Dam.
“I have two days to squeeze in about two weeks’ worth of training,” said Capt. Jay Horton during the meeting. Horton has been with SMFD for more than 31 years. He has been a swift water rescue instructor for 27 years.
Trey Hatt, communication specialist for the city and participant in the Citizens Fire Academy, said cadets would be “more than prepared” for the water rescue exercise.
“I learn something every time I show up,” Hatt said. “Jay Horton is a thorough instructor and very passionate.”
Horton stressed to the cadets that Texas is the leader of flash flood events in the nation. The Greater Austin-San Antonio Corridor leads the state in flash flooding.
Horton said water takes heat out of the human body 20 times faster than air, causing hypothermia to set in faster.
“Match your rescue with your victim,” Horton said.