By Tim Gaynor
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Five people whose skeletal remains were found in a remote Arizona smuggling corridor are thought to have been homicide victims from Mexico or Central America who were shot or beaten to death, authorities said on Tuesday.
Border Patrol agents discovered the five sets of human remains a week ago. They were partly covered by rocks in desert about 130 miles south of Phoenix near the town of Sells on the Tohono O'Odham Reservation.
After a preliminary examination on Tuesday, Pima County Chief Medical Examiner Gregory Hess said trauma to the bones indicated that the five had either been bludgeoned or shot to death.
"We are treating it as a likely homicide. However, we don't know how those injuries were inflicted yet, and whether or not those injuries were blunt force injuries that caused the bones to be traumatized or were gunshot injuries," Hess said.
"We believe that they are the remains of five foreign nationals who were killed either there or somewhere else and put in that location," he added.
Asked if he thought the victims had died together, he said: "Probably."
The age, sex and time of death of the five victims has yet to be established. However, personal effects, including currency, found with the remains were "consistent" with them being from "Mexico or Central America, or somewhere else," Hess said.
Arizona straddles a well-trafficked corridor for human and drug smugglers from Mexico. While deaths are not uncommon among border crossers, they are mostly caused by heat exposure in the summer months.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and David Brunnstrom)