GULF SHORES, Ala. (WKRG) — This is a story that started on the beach in Gulf Shores on Sept. 24, 2005.
Sgt. Nate Harris with tGulf Shore Police said they received a call about a drowning. The young man was Hispanic, about 20 to 25 years old and had gone swimming that Saturday afternoon. He was swimming at the west end of what is now Gulf Place. “We don’t have a lot to go on, other than what was obtained that day,” said Harris who started looking into the case six months ago.
The drowning is documented on the few pages of an incident report. “They found this individual deceased on the beach with nobody around him,” said Harris. “Some witnesses had said that he was with three or four other individuals but they couldn’t be found.”
In September of 2005, Gulf Shores was still recovering from Hurricane Ivan and the area was flush with immigrant workers that had come in search of a job. “Pictures that were taken of him at the scene were taken around to different work sites to some restaurants to hotels where a lot of immigrants were staying. Nobody could identify him,” says Harris.
Those photos and investigator’s notes from 17 years ago are still hidden away in boxes of files in a storage closet somewhere but not his DNA.
“They took a sample of his blood and put it on, pretty much, an index card.” That’s where genealogy analyst Olivia McCarter comes in. She sent the blood sample to a lab in Houston and that gave them the first clue as to where this man might have come from. “His DNA is mostly of Mayan descent. So, he’s going to be from those places where the ancient Mayans were Oaxaca, Mexico, Guatemala places like that,” said McCarter.
She admits it’s not a lot to go on but won’t give up. “I feel like he’s my responsibility right now. I’m his family until I can identify his actual family,” said McCarter.
The young man, with no name, was laid to rest in a cemetery in Foley. His grave, just a patch of grass under an oak tree with no headstone, no markings of any kind. “Somebody out there is missing a loved one,” said Harris. “Our whole goal in all of this is to get him identified and bring some closure to this family.”
This story may have started on a beach in Gulf Shores but many hope this is not where it ends.