When her husband left her, Rosa Cano decided that the only way to provide for her daughters was to make the three-day journey through the Mexican desert to America.
But she didn’t make it, and her family never knew what happened to her.
It’s an unfortunately common situation that prompted Baylor University forensic science professor and DNA researcher Lori Baker to spend the last decade building a database of unidentified remains buried in paupers cemeteries along the border.
"They have all these people dying on the border, and nobody wants them," Baker said. "There were people who wanted them, they just didn't know how to find them."
This summer, Baker and a team of Baylor students worked gravesites in the Valley.
"The graves are not only unmarked, but most of the time they're undocumented," Baker said. “We could link families directly to the information on individuals that we'd found, and then get family DNA to match with the remains that were recovered."
Dr. Baker used DNA from family members to finally identify the missing Rosa Cano.
It's closure the researcher hopes to bring to more families.
"I was told by Rosa Cano's mother that the hope eats you alive everyday, and now she has her daughter returned to her,’” Baker said. “Every single one of these women have said, 'Now I have a place to pray.'"
Doctor Baker's work has the underlying scientific goal of documenting genetic variations among Hispanic groups.