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Tucson man works to ID, find bodies of migrants

Tucson man works to ID, find bodies of migrants

In 2007, the body of an unidentified Peruvian man was found in the Arizona desert. He was cremated, stored in a little jar and put away after failed efforts to identify him.

Five years later, a worker in the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office helped get his remains home.

"That just has to complete you somehow," said Engel Indo, a technology liaison for the Office of the Medical Examiner and the Mexican Consulate.

According to the Pima County Forensic Science Center, in 2011 there were 117 unidentified migrants who died in the Southern Arizona desert.

Indo has helped to positively identify five bodies himself since he became involved with the Virginia-based Bode Technology, which aids in DNA analysis and identification of many of the bodies found in the desert.

Indo has created a Facebook page called Identifícame/Identify Me Arizona to help identify those who have died crossing the desert and a search team.

"I realized there was this opportunity to do more ... in hopes of identifying these bodies," Indo said. "It's just sad that we have all these bodies, and we don't know who to give them to."

On the bilingual website, Indo puts information about the discovered bodies such as tattoo photos and head shots.

He also lists information on people who have disappeared, including their nationality, the last place they were seen and what they were wearing.

"After a while, I started thinking: 'Why do we have to just wait for the bodies? Let's go get them,' " Indo said.

Once or twice a month, Indo plans to take volunteers into the desert on daylong searches for bodies, bones and live people.

Dr. Gregory Hess, chief medical examiner for Pima County, welcomes the help.

"I think that it is a fairly new thing that Indo is trying to do, and if he finds these remains in the desert, that is of interest to us so that we can try and identify those people," Hess said. "As long as they notify law enforcement and don't try to pick up things themselves, then certainly that could help us."

Right now, Indo has between 15 to 20 volunteers.

Volunteer Raúl Martinez has agreed to assist Indo in his search.

"I understand the situation of the migrants crossing the border, and I really think it would be a good experience to go out there and look for any sign of life," Martinez said. "It's sad that these people disappear and their families never hear from them again. I just know helping out with this would be a good choice."

Duties will be split among volunteers.

"We are going to divide the volunteers into three groups," Indo said. "The first group will be logistics: They will handle food, water and transportation. The second group will be in charge of communication, since our cellphones will not likely work in the desert, and the third group will be the ones actually searching."

Using maps created by Humane Borders, Indo and his volunteers will search the desert between Nogales, Sasabe and Lukeville.

After a full day out in the desert without much food or water, the majority of migrants start having problems, Indo said.

"The plan is to very carefully mark the bones and bodies ... and grab the GPS coordinates so we can contact the authorities to come out and investigate," he said.

Indo is in need of equipment, water, food and transportation.

And he knows there are dangers lurking in the desert, such as human smugglers.

"One thing I am asking for on Facebook is anyone who has trained with weaponry like ex- military, because I know there are the dangers of the coyotes (smugglers) who are protecting their spaces," Indo said. "All I know is I won't back down, and we will move forward.

"I believe in karma," he said. "I believe that you have to do things that are good for others, and I think giving these families closure is really positive. They are human beings that died, and, if nothing else, they deserve their goodbyes from their loved ones."

On StarNet: Search a database of those who have died crossing the border at


Contact Engel Indo for volunteer and donation information at

Marisa Bernal is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at starapprentice@azstarnet. com or 573-4117.

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