PHOENIX (Reuters) - Five sets of skeletal human remains have been discovered hidden in unusual circumstances in Arizona's remote desert in an area used as a smuggling corridor with Mexico, and investigating authorities said on Friday they have not ruled out foul play.
The Pima County Medical Examiner said U.S. Border Patrol agents discovered the remains, partially covered by rocks, on Tuesday near the town of Sells on the Tohono O'Odham Reservation, about 130 miles south of Phoenix.
"It's not a typical migrant death site. Usually that's people laying under a tree because it got too hot, and they're on the surface of the ground and nobody tried to bury them," Chief Medical Examiner Gregory Hess told Reuters.
"The remains were partially covered with rocks and we're not sure if that's an attempt to hide (them) or if somebody just buried them there for some other reason ... or whether or not that indicates foul play or what's going on,"
The Tohono O'Odham Police Department, which is the leading the investigation, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. The Tucson sector Border Patrol confirmed the discovery but declined further comment.
Arizona straddles a well trafficked corridor for human and drug smugglers from Mexico. While border crossers' deaths are common, mostly caused by heat exposure in the summer months, the circumstances in which these remains were found were not typical of border crosser fatalities, Hess said.
He said he had not yet determined the gender or age of the remains or cause of death, but added that autopsies would be carried out next week.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Tim Dobbyn)