Childhood and Adulthood Residency Prediction Using Strontium (87Sr/86Sr) and Oxygen (δ18O) Isotopes for Unidentified Deceased Migrants Recovered in Southern Texas

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Robyn T. Kramer
Eric J. Bartelink


Strontium and oxygen isotope values are used in conjunction with a maximum likelihood assignment model to predict the childhood and adulthood geographic residences of 20 deceased migrants recovered along the México-U.S. border in south Texas. The objectives of this research are to determine (1) if the childhood and adulthood residency assignments predict the same geographic region, (2) if using the predicted residential history/nationality as a filter on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) reduces the number of potential matching missing person reports, and (3) if we should target teeth or bone as the optimal hard tissue to sample. We found that 12 of the 20 cases (60%) predict similar regions of residency using isotopes derived from bone bioapatite (adulthood residency) and tooth bioapatite (childhood residency). When predicted residential history/nationality data were used as a filter in NamUs, there was a significant reduction in the mean number of case searches (mean = 1568.5 ± 505.3 [1 SD] vs. 107.9 ± 142.6 [1 SD]; t = 12.441, df = 22, p < 0.001, unequal variances assumed). These results demonstrate the utility of isotope data for narrowing down the region of origin and in turn the number of missing persons records to review. Finally, we recommend that death investigators at minimum collect dental samples (premolars or molars) for future unidentified migrant cases to aid in identification efforts utilizing isotope analytical methods. Bone bioapatite samples can provide more recent residential history information but should be used in conjunction with tooth enamel data.

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