Border crossing deaths on the rise

The Webb County Medical Examiner says the most common cause of death is heatstroke
Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 9:48 AM CDT
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LAREDO, TX. (KGNS) - Illegal border crossings are on the rise, as various federal agencies have reported, but so are the deaths.

On an almost daily basis, the Webb County Medical Examiner receives a dead border crosser, quickly bringing that total number up which is a new high in her entire career.

The 103rd dead border crosser of the year was a 56-year-old who according to Webb County Medical Examiner Dr. Corinne Stern was too old to be making the journey.

That number continues to rise on the daily.

The 103rd border crosser arrived at her office on Thursday, May 13.

Later that afternoon, she received the 104th.

By Thursday, May 20, that number grew to 108 which is more than twice what she normally sees in May.

“If we keep on this path, we’ll see about 300 for the year,” Dr. Stern said.

In 2019, the total number was 172 and about 140 last year, still higher than what she expected during the pandemic.

That’s across all 12 counties Dr. Stern serves

The most common cause of death is heat stroke.

“It doesn’t have to be in the triple digits for somebody to succumb to hyperthermia,” Dr. Stern said.

And because of the heat, a person who died can quickly decompose, like in the case of remains found on May 4.

Border Patrol for the Laredo Sector posted the picture to social media, prompting skepticism from the community. How were the remains still intact?

“They were in a sense still intact. Had those remains been out there probably another week or two, they would have been scattered. They just happened to have been found relatively quickly,” Dr. Stern said.

She also says finding skeletal remains without clothing is more common than not.

“In our climate down here on the border unfortunately, you can go in that kind of environment out in the brush from death to skeleton in about a week.”

And for the 103rd border crosser from May 13, he was probably dead for about three or four days.

“Even with his age, his family is probably still alive. He has a family somewhere, and he was probably coming over here to work to make money to send back.”

Dr. Stern says while a majority are males, she is seeing an increase in women and children.

Some of the causes of death range from heat stroke to hypothermia like during the winter storm, rattlesnake bites and traffic accidents.

She tests everyone for COVID-19 unless they’re too decomposed. Of the ones she’s tested about 20 percent have come back positive.

Also because of COVID, DNA is taking about 12 months to process.

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