Lorenia Ton visits the morgues of southern Arizona searching for clues among the unclaimed bodies and belongings of people who tried to cross the desert.

Lorenia Ton visits the morgues of southern Arizona searching for clues among the unclaimed bodies and belongings of people who tried to cross the desert.


Sometimes it's a phone number written inside pantlegs, or a piece of paper sewn into a backpack. Other times there are family photos, images of saints, or love letters.


"Sometimes we cannot find anything," says Ton, whose job at the Mexican consulate in Tucson involves helping identify the remains and return them to Mexico.


To confirm the IDs, the consulate sends DNA samples to Bode Technology Group Inc., a private lab in Lorton, Va., outside Washington, as part of a project that has brought closure to dozens of families and countless relatives on both sides of the dangerous border.


During one trip in April, Ton (pronounced TOHN') came across a body recently discovered by a hunter. Found with the dead man were his tennis shoes, a belt, a couple of dollars and pesos, a wallet, a baseball cap and voter identification card. Ton had a name: Agustin Gutierrez Ortiz, 34.


Jesus Gutierrez Ortiz, 37, who lives in Bradley Beach, N.J., described his brother as a hardworking father of two who left their hardscrabble town of La Natividad in the state of Oaxaca to help his family. He reported the younger Gutierrez Ortiz missing to Mexican authorities in June 2009, and Bode confirmed the worst a year later.


"I always asked God that he be alive, but in my heart I felt that he was dead because he was in the desert," Gutierrez Ortiz says in Spanish. "If I could have flown into the desert ... to look for him I would have."


The lab has made at least 47 positive identifications since the program began a couple of years ago. Many other cases are pending as the number of people who try to cross the border illegally has grown.