Searching for Andy at PCOME: Database debut leads to Tucson travels

A publicly accessible website went online one week ago that provides maps and data based on the location where bodies presumed to be migrants have been recovered in southern Arizona. The Arizona OpenGIS for Deceased Migrants is “the result of ongoing partnership” between the humanitarian group Humane Borders, Inc. and the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (PCOME). And so I ended up in a southbound car with New York Times reporter Fernanda Santos and freelance photographer Joshua Lott to learn about how the database works. In the years since the first time I visited PCOME, many things have changed. Dr. Bruce Parks, whom I interviewed for Unidentified dead common on the border, retired in the summer of 2011 and Dr. Gregory Hess is now the medical examiner.

MFM blog update: summing up the first year of the search for Andy

When Eddie contacted me in August 2011 neither of us knew how long the search for his brother-in-law Andy might last. After working with law enforcement, humanitarian volunteers, activists and the medical examiner, Andy’s family is still waiting for answers. Some have consulted psychics known as brujas. Some have driven the highways of Arizona stopping at local hospitals, police stations and prisons. Others have retraced Cota’s route from Tijuana to Cananea, posting flyers with his name and photographs along the way.

A call from the dentist

In February, Eddie hadn’t heard much from Robbie and Johnny about their search along the Mexican side of U.S.-Mexico border for Andy, missing since July 2011. “We haven’t heard anything from them,” Eddie said.” “I know they went to Canenea and those places but I don’t know where they are right now, we don’t know where they are now.”

Yesterday he called back to update me on their trip. “They came back empty handed with no information, they asked people and they didn’t have anything,” Eddie said. “They reported that the Mexican police, they looked around and nobody had any information.”

But he had something more pressing to discuss. “That’s some breaking news that the medical examiner called from Arizona, they have some information that they called the dentist,” Eddie said.

The trip that never was

Eddie and his wife Monse had planned to drive down in February to look for her missing brother Andy along the U.S.-Mexico border in southern Arizona. But, energized by the words of the psychics they consulted, her family developed other plans. “All of the sudden Monse’s family is getting excited they want to go look for them,” Eddie said at the end of January. “Every time Monse and I we want to do something they get, the family gets excited and they start some activities.”

Eddie and Monse had planned to talk to radio stations and visit shelters. “Monse and I, we meet these people so Monse can tell her story here what’s going on with the brother,” Eddie said.

The brujas are back

I checked in with Eddie this weekend to see how the holidays had gone. In mid-December, he’d mentioned that he and his wife Monse were discussing coming south to look for Monse’s missing brother-in-law Andy again. They hadn’t come yet but he did have some news for me: the brujas are back. “I’m trying to go convince there’s no such thing, you know, don’t believe those people,” Eddie said. But about two weeks ago, Andy’s sister in Tijuana went to one and the information she shared with Eddie’s wife Monse has Eddie worried.

Questions still: a year of living with the unknown

A year ago, through his brother-in-law Eddie, I learned how a Los Angeles area hair salon owner named Andy had gone missing along the U.S.-Mexico border, trying to return home after burying his mother in Sinaloa. A few weeks after his disappearance, Andy’s large family of brothers and sisters, spouses and cousins, nieces and nephews-in-law were scared and anxious. They turned to each other and individually they turned to outside sources including friends, hospitals, law enforcement and psychics on both sides of the border, even questioning the potentially dangerous coyote smugglers paid to safely guide Andy home – but they weren’t finding answers. One year later, they know barely anything more than they did when Andy first went missing. Here’s what they know (also used to generate Andy’s timeline):

Born in Sinaloa in November 1965, Andy came to the United States in the 1980s.

MFM blog update: timeline of a disappearance

A year ago, Andy’s family was coming to the realization that something had gone wrong. Instead of making an illegal and dangerous border crossing from Mexico to the U.S. somewhere in southern Arizona, Andy had disappeared. Now, just over a year later, they still do not know what happened to him. But they have worked with me on developing a timeline of Andy’s travel between Mexico and the U.S. which is posted today.

barrio brujas: turning to the other side

This summer Eddie has described what he considers troublesome developments when it comes to how his family is handling Andy’s disappearance, now nearly one year ago. “The family of Monse, they’re going to these people like card readers, they are like, you know, what you call this…?” “Like psychics?” I asked. “We’re dealing with those those brujas, you call them, brujas,” Eddie said.

Dental records – and an approaching anniversary

On the corner of my desk there’s a sealed manilla envelope that I’ve been avoiding. As I work on other things, cook, clean, and do everything else to avoid sitting down and opening it, it sits, waiting. The envelope has two copies of Andy’s dental records. Eddie mailed them after our last conversation, an extra set like the ones he’s taking to aid groups, medical examiners and law enforcement at every opportunity. “I sent two copies,” Eddie said.

Filing the report

It’s been awhile since I’ve heard from Eddie. His latest call, just before the end of March, is unexpected but follow-up on my part is probably overdue. There’s no new information about Andy. Instead Eddie has called to give me report numbers. Eddie’s wife has filed a missing persons report with NAMUS, a national missing persons database.