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Memorial to Nigerian mass killing sought
TAMPA, Fla. -- University of South Florida researchers are back in Nigeria this summer to continue their work collecting statements from witnesses to a decades-old mass killing that took place during the nation’s civil war.

USF professor of anthropology Liz Bird and professor of history Fraser Ottanelli, who are blogging about their trip, hope the accounts and publicity surrounding the killings will eventually lead to the construction of a permanent memorial to the victims of the 1967 slayings in Asaba.

The Asaba Memorial blog chronicles the researcher’s visit this summer.

In October 1967, as civil war raged in the African nation, government troops gunned down an estimated 500 to 700 men and older boys in the city of Asaba, along the Niger River. The bodies were buried in mass graves, and little evidence exists about the massacre, making the witness statements increasingly more valuable in reconstructing the event.

Ottanelli, chair of the department of history at USF, hopes the blog will help spread the word about the efforts to mark the massacre. In addition to USF researchers, others supporting the work being done include academics in Asaba, the Lagos State University’s College of Medicine and John Obafunwa, a forensic pathologist there.

“This really fits with USF’s mission- to be community engaged and not just locally, but globally,” said Bird.

The research being conducted this summer is two-fold.

While Bird and Ottanelli travel the countryside to find witnesses to the event, another team is gathering forensic evidence on skeletal remains.

Erin Kimmerle, assistant professor of anthropology at USF, and Chuck Massucci, a Tampa Police Department homicide detective, are in Nigeria and are working with medical staff at the morgue in Lagos and the medical labs at Lagos State University.

They are focusing efforts on studying human skeletal growth and variation in order to develop methods for human identification that are relevant to Nigeria and other African populations. While no remains have been exhumed from the Asaba massacre, the techniques being studied could apply to those remains if exhumation occurs in the future.

“The families’ rights, human rights and social justice are the center of this research project,’’ said Kimmerle. “In doing so, we are not only working with Nigerians to build something for their community, but we are able to apply solutions to problems of missing persons and unidentified remains in the USA.”

This research, she said, can be used in the United States and elsewhere in the world because it helps to build the knowledge base of skeletal variation, which can be used to help identify missing loved ones. The emergence of new forensic technology and practices is contributing to the surge in investigators revisiting cold case files.

Massucci is excited about what the implications of this case could have for the field of criminal investigation. He is currently an adjunct faculty member for USF anthropology and is teaching “Intro to Forensic Science.”

“I feel very grateful to be a part of this,” said Massucci. “To do this is opening up a lot of doors for education and improvement of what I do as a criminal investigator.”

To learn more about the ongoing efforts in Asaba, visit the Asaba Memorial Project website. The project is a collaboration between USF researchers in the departments of anthropology and history and the people of Asaba, including both academics and those who were personally affected by the tragedy.

Filed under:Arts and Sciences Anthropology History Research School of Social Sciences 
Author: Daylina Miller