Officials seek names of 5 found dead in Rio Grande
Authorities were attempting Tuesday to identify five people believed to have drowned while illegally crossing the swift waters of the Rio Grande into the U.S.
The victims -- four men and a woman -- were spotted Monday by a Mexican fisherman in the river near the Texas border town of Rio Grande City.
“It’s not uncommon to find drowning victims in the river,” said Lt. Larry Fuentes of the Starr County Sheriff’s Department. “The only thing that was unusual is we found five at one time.”
The most recent Border Patrol statistics show 38 drownings in the Texas stretch of the river between October 2005 and Sept. 15, 2006. That compares with 25 drownings in fiscal 2005, and 42 in 2004.
For immigrants attempting to cross the river, the seemingly calm waters of the Rio Grande are dangerously deceptive, said Todd Fraser, a spokesman with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington.
“There are very strong currents that people aren’t aware of,” Fraser said. “Smugglers aren’t informing the individuals they’re leading ... of the dangers, and thus the very unfortunate results.”
Two of the immigrants found Monday were floating near a small island in the middle of the river; three more were a few miles downriver, Fuentes said.
Volunteer firefighters from a nearby town and Starr County sheriff’s deputies recovered the bodies, which were partially decomposed, Fuentes said. “They might have been in the water three to five days,” he said.
He isn’t speculating where along the river they crossed. “Sometimes the bodies get caught on something and stay in the same area they started, sometimes they float far away, you don’t know for sure,” Fuentes said.
After autopsies performed Tuesday, investigators will attempt to identify the dead using information provided by the coroner, such as identifying marks or tattoos and the victims’ ages. They will then try to find next of kin.
“If they were crossing with a group, someone will maybe send word home when they reach their destination,” Fuentes said. That may lead worried family members to authorities. If the bodies aren’t identified, they will be buried nameless in the county cemetery, he said.