As she got her photo taken, Maria Zenaida did not know this would be last time she smiled for the camera.
Her dream of reaching the U.S. and meeting three of her sisters was cut short by a Mexican police bullet, fired at the pick-up truck carrying her across Mexico. Maria Zenaida Escobar was a Salvadoran teenager, wishing for a job to help her family.
Her mother is still in disbelief.
“It was terrible,” Maria Milagroc Cerritos said. “I couldn’t fathom that. Why did the Lord take her? Why did that bullet hit her? Why didn’t they aim for the tires, instead?”
The Consul of El Salvador in Veracruz confirmed it.
Dario Escobar, Maria’s father, recalls getting the news with tears in his eyes. “She said it was my daughter…she was the dead one.”
Mexican authorities have given different versions of what transpired on June 14th.
“Now they are saying that it wasn’t the federal police,” Escobar said. “ I feel and believe that it was the Mexican federal police, because how if I’m a member of a government unit, would I lend my car to somebody else that does not represent the organization The problem is that they did not want to face what they did.”
Authorities say the migrants opened fire first and police retaliated.
Escobar denies this. “That is a lie. Only pure innocence was aboard that car. Innocent people with no guns, defenseless.”
Two others were wounded, in addition to Zenaida’s death and the driver is still missing. The officials involved in the shooting fled the scene.
The incident took place just days after Mexico’s government agreed to a deal with the U.S. that would avoid President Trump’s threatened 5% tariffs on all Mexican goods.
For its part, Mexico committed to do more to curtail the flow of Central American migrants heading to the US, including deploying its new National Guard.
Still, migrant advocates say close to 300 Salvadorans flee the country every day.
Some of these Central American migrants are facing terrible circumstances such as persecution, rape, incest, extreme poverty that no wall, no detention center could possibly scare them. Maria Zenaida paid the ultimate price for chasing the American Dream.
And so did Oscar and Valeria Martinez, the Salvadoran father and daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande trying to cross into Texas, now immortalized by the viral photo of the two face down and lifeless in the river.
The young mother, Tania Avalos, survived thanks to Milton Paredes. Milton had the young mother on his back as they attempted to cross the river because Tania did not know how to swim.
“He was carrying the girl here, inside his t-shirt, and maybe he lost balance, because the baby was heavy, maybe he lost balance when he was swimming, he just started to get tired and started to sink, and when the wife saw he was going under, she started to get desperate and was pushing both of us under the water,” Milton Paredes says. “And that’s what made me get her out of the river.”
“And when we got to the shore, we couldn’t see him anymore. We saw a glimpse of the girl, just her tiny face, really red, trying to gesture something, that was all. We didn’t see them until they found their bodies.”
The U.S. Border Patrol has recorded some 75-hundred migrant deaths along the border in the ten years between 1998 and 2018. Humanitarian groups estimate the figure to be much higher. Milton says he will try again to cross the river because a future in El Salvador is an even scarier proposition.