Authorities in Mexico discovered the entwined bodies of a Salvadoran migrant and his 23-month-old daughter who died while attempting to cross the Rio Grande. Officials found the bodies near Matamoros, Tamaulipas.
Reports indicate the father, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, a native of El Salvador, attempted to cross the Rio Grande from Matamoros to an area near Brownsville, Texas, with his 23-month-old daughter. It appears he made it safely across the river and then returned, leaving his daughter behind, to retrieve his wife, Tania Vanessa Avalos, the Associated Press reported Tuesday evening.
As he crossed back across the river, his daughter apparently jumped back into the swiftly moving river in an attempt to follow. Marinez returned to her aid, but both were swept away by the current, the report continues.
“When the girl jumped in is when he tried to reach her, but when he tried to grab the girl, he went in further … and he couldn’t get out,” Martinez’ mother, Rosa Ramírez told the AP reporter in a phone interview. “He put her in his shirt, and I imagine he told himself, ‘I’ve come this far’ and decided to go with her.”
A search began but was later called off due to darkness. The following morning, Mexican authorities found the father and daughter. He apparently tucked her inside his shirt to keep her in his grasp. She appears to have died with her arm around his neck.
“I begged them not to go, but he wanted to scrape together money to build a home,” Ramírez continued. “They hoped to be there a few years and save up for the house.”
Despite her protestations, the family left El Salvador on April 3. They spent about two months at a shelter in southern Mexico before making their way north to the Texas-Mexico border.
The family apparently became frustrated with waiting in Mexico to apply for entry into the U.S. and decided to cross the river illegally on Sunday.
Human rights advocate Maureen Meyer with the Washington Office on Latin America described the photo as “a horrifying image.”
AP photographer Julia Le Duc witnessed the bodies in the water before they were removed by authorities. “I was drawn to the girl’s arm on her father,” she explained in reaction to the scene. “It was something that moved me in the extreme because it reflects that until her last breath, she was joined to him not only by the shirt but also in that embrace in which they passed together into death.”
Martinez and his daughter join at least 170 other migrants who died this year while crossing or shortly after crossing the Mexican border into the United States, according to the International Organization for Migrants’ Missing Migrant Project. More than half of those deaths occurred in Texas.