Forensic experts have found a mass grave containing the remains of babies and young children at a former Catholic orphanage in Ireland.
Government-appointed investigators announced findings Friday that offered the first conclusive proof following a historian's efforts to trace the fates of nearly 800 children who perished there.
The experts found an underground structure divided into 20 chambers containing "significant quantities of human remains."
The commission said DNA analysis of selected remains confirmed the ages of the dead ranged from 35 weeks to 3 years old and were buried chiefly in the 1950s, when the overcrowded facility was one of more than a dozen in Ireland offering shelter to orphans, unwed mothers and their children. The Tuam home closed in 1961.
Friday's findings provided the first proof after decades of suspicions that the vast majority of children who died at the home had been interred on the site in unmarked graves.
That was a common, but ill-documented practice at such Catholic-run facilities amid high child mortality rates in early 20th century Ireland. "Everything pointed to this area being a mass grave," said Catherine Corless, a local Tuam historian, who recalled how local boys playing in the field had reported seeing a pile of bones in a hidden underground chamber there in the mid-1970s.
The report found that the dead children may have been placed in underground chambers originally used to hold sewage. Corless called on the nuns to promise explicitly to help the state organize proper marked burial places for every dead child once each set of remains could be identified.
"That's the least that can be done for them at this late stage," she said.
--The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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