All posts by Austin Lorynski

Dry, Dirty, But Not Dehydrated

It has begun! The long anticipated first day of searching the remote wildlands has finally come. The day started with a cacophony of alarms going off in the hotel room. We frantically scrambled to get all of our gear packed in time to meet Deputy Sheriff Don and Dr. Latham for breakfast where we discussed our plan for the day. I made sure to eat some Activia yogurt (you can ask Izzy, Jordan, and Olivia why). Once we were finished, we squeezed into the minivan where we relished in the last chance to feel cool air conditioning for several hours. The saying is true, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

When we got to the search location, we started our line search right away. We used the caliche road as the landmark our anchor would walk next to in order to orient ourselves. Because the road we followed led us north, we spread out our team towards the west and continued north to cover as much ground as possible without getting lost. The landscape was different than I had anticipated. The ground was covered in thick grass and weeds which made our search difficult. At first, we all did a really good job staying together as we traveled through the desert, checking under trees and in the thick brush. We managed to find some faint footprints, old water bottles, a distressed lunchbox and backpack, and a pair of pants. The pants were fairly new, however, nothing suggested the items were from recent activity.

We walked for nearly a mile north before we regrouped and headed back to the car for lunch. Luckily I wasn’t as thirsty as I anticipated. I have my team to thank for this because they suggested that I buy a “camelback” backpack: a bag you wear on your back that contains a pouch than can hold several liters of water. While you are walking, you can simply grab the attached hose for a quick drink. Personally, it makes me feel like a gerbil, but it is truly a life-saver and I recommend it for anyone who works outside in the heat. We kept annoying each other to keep drinking water because, well, we care. Food was much needed, however a comfy seat in the van with a full belly made it difficult to resume our search.

The second time around was much more challenging. We searched the other side of the road, however our path led us each astray from one another deeper and deeper into the brush. We checked under trees, avoiding so many thorn-covered branches. I’m not a botanist, but in my opinion there is no need for every tree in Texas to have that many thorns. It’s a bit ridiculous and unnecessary if you ask me.

We didn’t get very far before we needed to take another break. The constant ducking under branches and crawling through the shrubs tired us out real quick, not to mention the 98 degree heat. During our rest, I got a chance to sit down and talk to Don about what he does and how his career led him to where he is today. He is a very welcoming and down-to-earth individual. I admire his sense of compassion and dedication to save lives. We are so fortunate to have him with our team this year, and I look forward to working with him within the next week.

Our last search was conducted a few minutes north at the site of a windmill surrounded by fences to contain livestock. We suspected this would be a good location to find evidence of migrant activity because of the landmark and the water. Dr. Latham was a little nervous about taking the minivan further out on the dirt road where it might lose traction in the sand. We then agreed that if the car made it out successfully she would officially be granted the long awaited name: Sandy. We searched the area and in the surrounding woods but found nothing. We gathered back at the van and Izzy brought back an animal skull for us to see. Thanks to Dr. Nawrocki’s comparative osteology class, I was able to recognize it as some sort of pig skull. Fortunately Sandy got us home in one piece.

Although our search did not lead us to find anything substantial today, the thought of not discovering anything gives me some hope that the individuals we were searching for are still alive to see another day. Being out there today really gave me some perspective of just how treacherous the journey is. There are so many elements of nature against you out there. I am just glad to know that there are people out there like Don and the rest of our team that can be available to help them when needed. Today was a very humbling experience.


Day 1 Complete!

“I enjoy long walks by the dirt roads”





Dr. Latham


Counting Down the Days

There are a lot of emotions going through my head as I prepare for the journey to Falfurrias. Although my team has informed me on what I can expect to see, I know that nothing can truly prepare me for what I am about to embark on.

Although I have never been to Texas before, I have experienced the humid summers of New Jersey, spending my time off from school either mowing lawns or working at an outdoor flea market. I know what physical labor feels like in hot weather and how it takes a toll on the body. Luckily, I came well equipped with supplies to combat the weather in order to prevent it from becoming a hindrance to the job. The heat will be an obstacle, but it will also give me some perspective on what the migrant journey is like.

The environment itself will also be very new to me. From what I know about the land we are searching, it is mostly desert terrain. I am curious to see new wildlife and a different side of nature. As exciting as it is to see a different part of the country, I am also slightly worried about my lack of fieldwork experience. This will be my first true field search, not to mention in an unfamiliar area. I am truly honored to be a part of this team and I view this as an important learning opportunity for my career.

I also look forward to meeting new people. From what my team has told me, the individuals we will be working with in Texas are very welcoming and kind-hearted. It makes me happy knowing that there are still people in this world who genuinely want to make a difference in the world to benefit humanity. There is also so much to learn from meeting new people. If you pay attention, they will inadvertently teach you valuable lessons that can sometimes stick with you for a lifetime. In addition, I look forward to working with the rest of my team. Although we all attend classes together and see each other every day, this will be my first time working with them professionally. I hope we can find common ground to allow us to grow closer as a group. I believe a strong bond among a team facilitates more productive work.

Most importantly, I am looking forward to learning more about the perspective of the migrants and how our work makes a difference. Although I have been studying up on the crisis at the border in preparation for this trip, I hope to hear real stories from the people we meet that are grounded in the reality that many of us don’t regularly hear about. I want to know more about the real truth about this humanitarian crisis and experience the impact our work has had on the community for years. Yes, we are a group of forensic scientists who specialize in skeletal identification and field searches. However, by learning more about the story of why we are there, I can educate others on the complexities of this issue and why it isn’t as black and white as some may see it.