Friday, 18 September 2015

Texas Border Sheriff works with Mexico to find missing persons

A Texas border sheriff and Mexican officials have begun working together in a unique partnership of sorts that has resulted in finding answers to missing persons cases as well as in capturing U.S. fugitives hiding in Mexico.

The partnership, which has already resulted in various successful extraditions, began when Roberto Rene Rodriguez (pictured above), an agent assigned to a task force with the Coahuila Attorney General’s Office and Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office, reached out to the Maverick County Sheriff’s Office, said Sheriff Tom Schmerber this week during an interview with Breitbart Texas.

In years past, Coahuila had been a stronghold for Los Zetas and over time law enforcement cooperation between the two countries had come to a halt. That changed when Schmerber and Rodriguez began to work together and over time Coahuila and Maverick County have closed multiple cases pertinent to both sides of the border.

Both lawmen travelled to Arizona to speak about their quest for answers and to invite other border sheriffs in an effort to expand the cooperation.

One of the key ways the two sides work deals with running missing person’s name by individuals in prisons and jails on both sides of the border. The lawmen also share DNA results of bodies found in clandestine graves. Other areas of cooperation include sharing information of missing illegal immigrants and those that have been deported.

Breitbart Texas spoke with Rodriguez after the conference about some of the cases that his agency has been able to close.

In searching for missing individuals, Rodriguez has found that in some of the cases, individuals reported missing in Coahuila have in fact crossed over to the United States and have been arrested for various criminal charges that include drug trafficking, human smuggling, robberies, and murder.

“This has helped us to give answers to the relatives in Mexico,” Rodriguez said. “It has been our experience that many times the relatives did not know that their loved one had crossed into the U.S. and much less that their loved one was involved in criminal activity.”

Friday 18 September 2015

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British Colombia's high number of unidentified bodies: who are they?

There are about 181 unidentified bodies in British Colombia, which account for more than half of all such cases in Canada, according to the RCMP's Unidentified Human Remains Unit in Surrey, B.C.

Due to having the highest numbers in the country, B.C. is one of the only provinces with a dedicated unit tasked with identifying human remains. B.C.'s Identification and Disaster Response Unit [IDRU] typically investigates three types of cases. Unidentified Human Remains cases, like the ones we are talking about here, are cases where, due to circumstances related to their death, the deceased person cannot be identified.

Unidentified Partial Remains cases feature victims who have been identified, but are incomplete. The IDRU's role is to re-associate any additional remains they find belonging to that person with the identified body or previously discovered remains. Presumed Deaths are cases where people are missing and their bodies could not be located or recovered. It's the IDRU's responsibility to find proof of death so these people can be declared legally deceased under the Coroners Act. Laurel Clegg, head of the IDRU, offers some insight as to why so many people who die in B.C. go unidentified.

Who Are These People?

This simple question doesn't have a simple answer. It would be nice to have a profile of the average unidentified body featuring the average age, ethnicity, sex and other identifying factors, but it just isn't that straightforward.

“Unidentified Human Remains represent the population of the province and are just as varied in age – from newborns to those in their 80’s – sex and ethnicity as the province itself,” says Clegg.

B.C.'s oldest case of unidentified remains on the books right now is from 1962. Back then, technology just wasn't available to solve these cases, but significant inroads have been made since then. The IDRU can now go back and solve many of these cold cases using tools like DNA, isotope analysis and forensic dentistry, but there are still a number of barriers to identification.

“Unfortunately, lack of identification often co-exists with lack of other information such as cause and manner of death, or incomplete remains; as such, it is rarely possible to determine if unidentified remains are particularly associated with other factors in the province,” says Clegg.

These factors include B.C.'s harsh geography, foul play, the economic status of the deceased or any other factor that could determine who these people are. “Unidentified remains, once identified – and if possible, with a cause of death – are representative of the populace of British Columbia, with the majority of deaths being undetermined, accidental or suicide,” says Clegg.

Where these remains are found is also representative of the distribution of B.C.'s population, with more unidentified remains cases occurring in the Lower Mainland, than in the remote areas of the province. Plus, the extreme landscapes of B.C. mean that more unidentified remains are found in or next to water, along remote roads, or in remote locations.

Why Are So Many of the Unidentified in B.C.?

The province's landscapes are a double-edged sword. While B.C.'s moderate temperatures mean it's possible to live outside in some areas year-round, the rough terrain means quite a few places are deceptively treacherous. It also doesn't help matters being surrounded by large bodies of water.

“Rivers, ports, glacial lakes and oceans can make identification of human remains very challenging,” confirms Clegg.

Since B.C. is one of Canada's only provinces with a dedicated unit for identifying unknown human remains, and thus reporting when they're located, it's difficult to determine whether B.C.'s numbers of unidentified deaths are actually higher than other provinces, or they just get reported and investigated more often because of this dedicated unit.

Another challenge facing investigators like Clegg, when it comes to identifying human remains, is time. “The longer a person has been missing, the more difficult it becomes to gather information, such as dental records and DNA, from that missing person or their relatives,” says Clegg.

This is where the deceased person's socioeconomic status may play a role. Obviously, if people are going to be found, they have to be reported missing and that comes down to how likely a person will be reported missing, or not show up for work. The poorer or more marginalized someone is, the less likely they'll be missed or even have a job in the first place.

“It does not change how we investigate at the coroner service,” insists Clegg.

“Unidentified remains present the same challenges, regardless of the social standing of the individual they represent.”

While time stands as a hindrance to any investigation by the IDRU, Clegg says time is simultaneously their greatest ally. “We constantly revisit unsolved cases and look at new ways of analysis. In this context, time offers us the promise of new techniques to solve what may be, at present, unsolvable.”

How Are These Cases Solved?

The B.C. Coroners Service investigates over 8,000 deaths every year and most of them are easily identifiable. Those cases that aren't so easy are given to the IDRU. Responsible for the investigation (and sometimes recovery) of unidentified human remains, the unit consists of two forensic scientists, a GIS analyst, who looks at digital geographic maps linked to databases, and a data analyst.

In addition to working the 181 unidentified death cases already on the books, the IDRU assists other coroners in solving new unidentified remains cases. Most of the cases are ones that weren't solvable back in the day, but thanks to technology, like nuclear and mitochondrial DNA analysis, are now able to be put to bed. “The unit works with various police agencies, including the RCMP who provide information on missing persons,which allow us to make comparisons against the remains,” says Clegg.

The IDRU also has a DNA databank specifically designed for making genetic comparisons of missing persons and unidentified human remains. Aside from DNA, the IDRU also uses facial recognition, dental comparison, surgical interventions (including tattoos), and isotope analysis.

“Also, there are patterns, and such patterns are studied by the Coroners Research Division, which pulls information from all cases to make recommendations that help ultimately reduce the likelihood of unnatural deaths.” she continues.

For example, an analysis of accidental drownings in B.C. lakes and rivers showed that, especially in the summer months, a significant number of drownings were from people who were visiting from out of province or out of country. This led to further investigations, which then led to the realization that (a) many visitors from elsewhere are unlikely to understand that B.C. waters tend to be colder, deeper and have more abrupt drop offs than elsewhere, even in Canada, and (b) many foreign tourists might not be able to understand danger signs posted only in English.

This in turn led to some bulletins encouraging hosts (individual or corporate) to explain B.C. waters carefully to visitors. The Coroners Service also worked with provincial and local park officials to ensure signs included pictographs that could be understood by those with weak English language skills.

If You Know Something, Say Something

For all the work the IDRU does to put a face to unidentified remains and bring closure to families, none of their success is possible without the help of the public. However, it is the police's responsibility to conduct missing persons investigations and follow-up with families, or whoever is reporting a disappearance. The Coroners Service only investigates human remains and usually has no jurisdiction until the remains are found.

“Of course, the two investigations are interconnected. We need to know about missing persons in order to match them with unidentified remains. We work with missing persons units within the police to facilitate collection of DNA and general information. The data collected is then compared against our collection of remains for eventual identification,” says Clegg.

In the past, though, there have been concerns over missing persons reports not being taken seriously.

“Initiatives to improve the system for sharing information on missing persons with coroners and medical examiners across the country will no doubt improve our ability to make comparisons, and thus, identifications,” says Clegg.

If you'd like to contribute to improving the existing system, Clegg recommends getting involved. You can do that by going to the B.C. Coroners Service or the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains websites where you can assist in identifying clothing, tattoos and faces.

“We are frequently assisted by other organizations such as the Doe Network who forward tips which we follow up with comparisons. We also work with many police agencies who constantly revisit unsolved missing persons cases, both within and outside of British Columbia. One very important factor, in being able to complete this work, is that people report others missing,” says Clegg.

“Sometimes we will identify someone only because they have finally been reported missing and thus we can include them for comparison. Anyone can report someone missing – not just family members – and it doesn’t matter how long it has been since their disappearance.”

Friday 18 September 2015

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Korean War: Julie Bishop in renewed push to find 43 Australian servicemen still missing in action

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will lead a renewed diplomatic effort to retrieve the remains of Australian servicemen still listed as missing in action in Korea.

Of the 17,000 Australians who served in the conflict, 340 were killed and the bodies of some of those men were never brought home.

There are 43 Australian servicemen officially classified as MIA in Korea.

The Federal Government will again ask North Korea for access to sites along its demilitarised zone and attempt to recover any Australian remains.

Assistant Defence Minister Stuart Robert has a personal interest in the Korean War. His uncle was the first RAAF pilot shot down over North Korea in July 1950.

Although his uncle's body was brought home, Mr Robert knows many others families were left in limbo.

"I have enormous empathy for the families of the ... Australians whose remains aren't recovered," Mr Robert said.

While Pyongyang was not "welcoming us with open arms", he said the Government remained hopeful the North Koreans would grant Australia access to these sites.

"We hope for a break in the ice, as our Foreign Minister connects slowly with theirs," he said.

"But this may be a long waiting game."

'I'll give up when they identify remains'

Private John Philip Saunders was among the Australian soldiers who never returned from Korea.

Ian Saunders was just four years old when his father left for the war.

He has spent decades trying to locate the remains of his father and the other Australian servicemen.

"I'll give up when they identify remains, preferably all," Mr Saunders said.

He has maintained daily email contact with a tight-knit group of families and veterans, and written countless letters to defence bureaucrats and politicians in Australia and overseas.

Mr Saunders has been recognised with an OAM for his service to the families of Australian MIA soldiers in the Korean War.

US Army recovers 1,000 remains, almost 400 unidentified

"We do believe that there have been some [remains] recovered and they could only be described as unknown," he said.

The United States Army has recovered the remains of some 1,000 Korean MIAs, but almost 400 are yet to be identified.

Some of those bodies are stored at a US defence facility in Hawaii.

Mr Saunders believes some Australians could be among them and he has collected dozens of DNA samples from relatives of the missing men.

He now wants the Government to work with the Americans to try to find a match.

The Government said it was open to the idea.

"We've certainly made it very clear to our American friends that if they choose to do that work, then we'd be very keen to see what the results are," Mr Robert said.

More than anything else, Mr Saunders wants a headstone for his father and the 43 other men still listed as MIA.

"Let's drop the tag that it's the 'Forgotten War' and do something about it and don't forget to bring them back," he said.

Friday 18 September 2015

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Libyan locals give 'dignified end' to unidentified refugee victims

For the Libyan coastal town of Zuwara, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Tunisian border, people smuggling — a lucrative and widespread business — is starting to leave its marks. Here, on the city’s 85-kilometer strip of beach, the large number of corpses of washed-ashore refugees, who were hoping to reach Europe for a better life, is becoming increasingly disturbing for the city’s locals.

“People deserve a dignified end,” said one of Zuwara’s locals. Waled, who declined to reveal his real name for safety concerns, is the first person in the city to take care of the corpses that wash ashore. He can’t recount how many bodies he has witnessed thus far. “Too many,” he told Al-Monitor. Most of them are men between the ages of 20 and 35, from countries such as Sudan, Nigeria and Syria. It is impossible to estimate how many bodies he has buried; often, there are as many as two bodies per day, he said.

Waled, 27, studied to become a veterinarian in Tripoli but returned to Zuwara last year. He quickly realized that his skills were far more needed on the shores of Zuwara than with the city’s pets. Today, as soon as locals see a body that has washed ashore, they call Waled — everybody in the area knows about his work. He was taught forensic inspection while at university, and now he carefully takes care of the bodies. He identifies victims by taking their photos and gives them dignified ends by burying them; at the same time, he makes sure there isn’t any risk of contagious infections for him or the people who have been in contact with the bodies.

Most of the bodies that Waled encounters carry some sort of identification card. In desperate attempts to keep their loved ones informed, those making the crossing often write down their names and families' contact details on the life vests. The identification process is important, but for those without identification cards it gets trickier. In Waled’s archive of bodies, he documents DNA samples and specific identifying information such as tattoos or birth marks, in addition to sex, estimated age and skin color. Family members of those missing contact Waled for information about a relative’s fate, upon which he compares his descriptions and photos of the bodies he encountered. Thanks to his efforts they sometimes have a grave to turn to. Today, there are two cemeteries in Zuwara; the original one is in central Zuwara, while the second one is 40 kilometers south of Zuwara. Volunteers who assist Waled dug out the graves.

This is high season for the people-smuggling business. At the end of August, a boat that left Zuwara with 400 people capsized in bad weather. Roughly 200 people are feared dead, adding to the already high toll of more than 2,300 people who have died at sea so far this year in their quest to reach Europe, according to estimates of the International Organization for Migration. Last year, the figure was 3,279. Many are African but others come from the Middle East; some are escaping the war in Syria and try crossing the sea for a better life in Europe. The people-smuggling networks in Libya are widespread, but the area around Zuwara has become a central point for the smugglers. The networks can operate fairly freely because of the country's conflict, and today many boats leave from the Zuwara area.

The Libyan coast guard operating outside the city’s coastline cooperates with Waled. With two vessels they try to cover an area that reaches 70 kilometers out at sea from the Zuwara coastline, within which they usually face a boat with refugees once or twice a day. When they encounter a body at sea or on the shore, they inform Waled to make sure that someone is there when the body is brought into the harbor. But many of the roughly 25 men in the Zuwara coast guard have never received any training in how to deal with bodies. Yet, due to the high number of overcrowded boats and often dire weather conditions, sometimes they are transporting as many as 25 corpses at a time.

For the first time, sitting in a conference hall in the southern Tunisian harbor city of Zarzis during a training session with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Sept. 8, 15 members of Zuwara’s coast guard discussed the risk of infections. Their biggest concern is the lack of equipment and the risk of diseases when touching the bodies, which sometimes have been lying in the water or the sun for an extended period. The smell, as they describe it, is the worst. To improve their work, MSF provides them with protection gear including boots, gloves and facial masks. For their rescue operations, they receive life vests and advice from MSF on how to facilitate these missions. Even though it is a tough job, often requiring the coast guards themselves to pay for the ships’ fuel from their own pockets, there is no hesitation in their commitment. “We don’t need to ask why or where they are going,” said one of the coast guards with determination. “It’s my duty as a human to rescue you.”

Last week, Zuwara’s locals mobilized in a demonstration against the people-smuggling business. Protesters held signs that read “Stop Killing Children,” and a boat was painted with images of money and bodies to portray how they conceived the smuggling business. But the phenomenon is not new and demonstrations have been held since 2012. The smugglers are not from Zuwara, Waled said, but they are people who take advantage of the Libyan conflict in order to make money. Yet, Waled believes that these demonstrations will have a positive effect in the fight against these smuggling activities. People are tired of the situation and want to force them out.

Thursday 17 September 2015

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Last of 17 missing miners in Mankayan retrieved

The final body in the Mankayan tragedy which saw scores of small-scale miners and their families buried by a huge landslide was finally found afternoon of Wednesday, September 16. But a snafu in the identification of the bodies may cause the exhumation of some of the bodies.

At about 1 pm, the body of who could have been the financier and leader of the group, Ronaldo Angel of Aurora Province, was found after 6 days. Rescuers in the field, however, said that the body was that of Rocky Mangrobang, who was supposedly found last August 31.

Yesterday, the rescuers, headed by Senior Superintendent Jonathan G. Calixto, commanding officer of the Benguet Provincial Public Safety Company (BPPSC), found the body supposedly of Mark Balicdan but it turned out the body is that of Harold Baturi, who was reportedly found August 31 as well and whose body was sent to Aurora.

Now the rescuers would have to return the body from Aurora as this belonged to Balicdan who is a native of Mankayan.

They are expected to do the same with Mangrobang and Angel.

But aside from the snafu, the recovery of all the missing bodies is a tribute to Calixto's men and almost all the people of Mankayan who had been here since August 21.

Calixto said about 500 people were there every day despite rains and danger of new landslides.

He said some of the villagers already wanted to hold a cleansing ritual and end the search but he was able to convince the volunteers to continue.

They are set to hold a thanksgiving ritual this week.

Friday 18 September 2015

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Missing pilgrims’ next of kin to undergo DNA test at Saudi mortuary

The next of kin of the two Malaysian pilgrims who are still unaccounted for after a crane collapsed on the Grand Mosque in Mecca last Friday will undergo the DNA test for the purpose of identifying bodies at the Muaissem mortuary in Mina.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom said the results would be known in the next two or three weeks. The two missing pilgrims were Shahidan Saad, 52, from Kodiang, Kedah, and Abdul Habib Lahman, 68, from Sik, Kedah.

"At the Muaissem mortuary, there are seven bags containing body parts of pilgrims and the Saudi authority had already conducted the DNA test on the body parts in the bags." He said the authority was now waiting for the next of kin of missing pilgrims to undergo the test to find possible matches.

The next of kin of the missing pilgrims to undergo the test are Sobri and Zulhakim, two brothers of Shahidan, and Mohamad Fazil, son of Abdul Habib. The three of them are expected to arrive here from Malaysia at 7 pm (midnight Malaysian time).

Jamil Khir said the Tabung Haji medical team would take the follow up action upon receiving the results. "Further announcement will be made after all tests are done.

Thursday 17 September 2015

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