ForAnth News Alert #2

This week, a story was published by Atlas Obscura that talks about the science behind why forensic anthropologists want to bury bodies around Los Angeles.

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr. Mark Fajardo resigned because of how stressful the extreme under-staffing of his department was. Because of financial issues, the county’s morgue has 180 sets of human remains backing up the work down at the morgue.

The backlog of remains has always been an issue for the county due to the massive volume of cases it receives. More than 60,000 deaths need to be processed each year. The county’s medical examiners are required to discover the details surrounding all violent and sudden deaths.

Basically, there is a whole lot of work and not a whole lot of staff or financial support. So, what can be done about this?


 

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A solution could be to create a new body farm program for research. Implementing this sort of program would allow forensic anthropologists to research human decomposition specifically in the climate of Southern California.

If this was developed in LA County, it would be the seventh facility to operate in the United States.

“At a time when forensic evidence in the courtroom weighs heavily on the outcome of a case, the legitimacy of data and dexterity with which law enforcement employs it is paramount. Body farm research, then, is a valuable intermediary between forensic anthropology studies and law enforcement application, providing protocol for the standardization of supporting data to assist in live casework.”-Emma Kemp, writer

This would also help out the local morgue because it would give the people of the county another option for donating their bodies to science. The current pool of options is severely limited.

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Giving Families Closure

Forensic anthropology and archaeology isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in popular culture. There isn’t usually a huge lab with all the best equipment and the ability to tell sex, ancestry or age at the quick glance of a stapes.

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The lab at the Jeffersonian on Bones.

However, what the TV does get right is the ultimate pay-off of these forensic investigations: justice and closure.

In modern forensic contexts, archaeologists are usually under a time-crunch. They twist into yoga-like positions to carefully excavate the remains of the individual. They keep digging, whether or not it’s raining or 103 degrees. Then, the forensic anthropologist analyzes the remains, also with a time-sensitive awareness, and tries to make an identification, sometimes sending teeth or other DNA-containing matter to the FBI for testing.

It hasn’t always been this way. Before these current forensic techniques were developed, many individuals went unidentified.

That’s exactly what happened to Kristyne Olivia Trejo, a mother of two from Santa Ana, California, whose remains were interred in San Bernardino in 1989, almost a year after her disappearance.

The last time they saw their mother, Tina Marie Costa was 5 years old and her brother Andrew Trejo was 10 years old. In this emotional video from NBC Los Angeles, the pair speaks out about this experience.

“It’s been hard for me waiting for all these years, hoping that one day I’d get home and just see her there. There was an empty part of me that only she could fill.” -Trejo

After 28 years of wondering what happened to her, most of their questions have been answered. A sample from Kristyne Trejo’s remains was taken about a decade ago for modern DNA testing. It was matched when those with missing family members were invited to sumbit their own DNA samples at the Orange County Sheriff Department’s “ID the Missing” event in October 2015.

“At least, we can lay her down to rest — that’s my closure.” -Costa

The overall sentiment is the relief of knowing what happened to their mother and having her returned to the family to be given a proper burial. Though the question of who committed this act against Kristyne Trejo may never be answered, the family feels reassured she is watching over them.

This is the power of forensic anthropology. This is the pay-off. As long as there are murderers, there will always be cases like this. But as long as there are forensic anthropologists, there will always be grief-stricken families given the right to mend.

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