Tragic story of El Salvador father and daughter who drowned crossing Rio Grande

Tragic story of El Salvador father and daughter who drowned crossing Rio Grande

The migrant father and his daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande on Sunday left their home in El Salvador three months ago in search of a better life

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The migrant father and his daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande on Sunday left their home in El Salvador three months ago in search of a better life and attempted the fatal river crossing after arriving at the border to find the consulate closed because it was a weekend. 

Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez , 25, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria, died on Sunday after being swept away by the current. 

They left El Salvador on April 3 and spent two months in a migrant camp in southern Mexico, awaiting news of their asylum request to the US, before they decided to take a bus to the border on Sunday to try to speed up their case. 

When they arrived, the consulate was closed but they also learned they were far down a list of hundreds of migrants in line for interviews. They decided to make the crossing illegally rather than wait and met their deaths in doing so. 

Oscar had carried Valeria across the river from Matamoros in Mexico to the banks of the river in Brownsville, Texas, and had turned around to fetch his wife, 21-year-old Tania Vanessa Ávalos, from the other side. 

Valeria jumped back in to the water when she saw her father go back in. 

He swam back to her and the pair were swept away by the current as Tania watched on helpless from the other side.

A haunting photograph of their bodies, which were found the next day, showed how Oscar had tucked his daughter inside his t-shirt to try to stop her from drifting away from him. 

Her little arm was still draped around his neck, an indication of how she had clung on to him until the final moments of her life. Tania watched them get carried away in the waters on Sunday and alerted authorities.  

Now, their family have shared details of why they left El Salvador in April. 

Oscar worked at a Papa Johns pizza restaurant, where he was earning $350 a month. 

Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez , 25, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria, died on Sunday after being swept away by the current

Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez , 25, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria, died on Sunday after being swept away by the current

Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez , 25, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria, died on Sunday after being swept away by the current

Oscar had tucked Valeria into his t-shirt to stop her from drifting away from him. He had dropped her on the US side of the Rio Grande and had turned back to get Tania, still on the Mexican side, but Valeria jumped into the water after him and the pair were swept away

Oscar had tucked Valeria into his t-shirt to stop her from drifting away from him. He had dropped her on the US side of the Rio Grande and had turned back to get Tania, still on the Mexican side, but Valeria jumped into the water after him and the pair were swept away

Oscar had tucked Valeria into his t-shirt to stop her from drifting away from him. He had dropped her on the US side of the Rio Grande and had turned back to get Tania, still on the Mexican side, but Valeria jumped into the water after him and the pair were swept away

The family arrived in Matamoros on Sunday after boarding a bus in southern Mexico. They went straight to the International Bridge and tried to get an appointment to discuss their asylum case but it was closed and they learned there were hundreds of people in front of them so they tried to cross themselves and were swept away

The family arrived in Matamoros on Sunday after boarding a bus in southern Mexico. They went straight to the International Bridge and tried to get an appointment to discuss their asylum case but it was closed and they learned there were hundreds of people in front of them so they tried to cross themselves and were swept away

The family arrived in Matamoros on Sunday after boarding a bus in southern Mexico. They went straight to the International Bridge and tried to get an appointment to discuss their asylum case but it was closed and they learned there were hundreds of people in front of them so they tried to cross themselves and were swept away 

They lived off his wage, limiting themselves to $10-a-day, because Tania had already quit her job as a cashier in a Chinese restaurant to care for Valeria, their only child. 

The family lived with her mother in a housing complex in Altavista.

I begged them not to go but he wanted to scrape together money to build a home  
Rosa Ramirez, Oscar’s mother 

They were not fleeing violence, Tania’s mother has since said, but were in desperate search of a life where they could earn more. 

Their plan was to spend a few years in America to save up enough money to eventually return to El Salvador and buy or build their own house.  

‘I begged them not to go, but he wanted to scrape together money to build a home. 

‘They hoped to be there a few years and save up for the house,’ Rosa Ramirez, Oscar’s mother, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Determined to eventually get to the US, on April 3, they left El Salvador for Mexico.  

There, they were granted a humanitarian visa in Tapachula which would have allowed them to work for a year there while they awaited news of their asylum request in the US. 

The family had been living in El Salvador on Oscar's $350-a-month wage but were struggling

The family had been living in El Salvador on Oscar's $350-a-month wage but were struggling

The family had been living in El Salvador on Oscar’s $350-a-month wage but were struggling

Valeria’s mother Tania Vanessa Ávalos, 21, left, had quit her job in a Chinese restaurant to look after her full time

The harrowing photographs of their bodies, with Valeria's arm still clinging around her father's neck, emerged on Monday as a symbol of the worsening migrant crisis at the border

The harrowing photographs of their bodies, with Valeria's arm still clinging around her father's neck, emerged on Monday as a symbol of the worsening migrant crisis at the border

The harrowing photographs of their bodies, with Valeria’s arm still clinging around her father’s neck, emerged on Monday as a symbol of the worsening migrant crisis at the border

Tania Vanessa Ávalos of El Salvador speaks with Mexican authorities after her husband and daughter were swept away by the current while trying to cross the Rio Grande to Brownsville

Tania Vanessa Ávalos of El Salvador speaks with Mexican authorities after her husband and daughter were swept away by the current while trying to cross the Rio Grande to Brownsville

Tania Vanessa Ãvalos of El Salvador speaks with Mexican authorities after her husband and daughter were swept away by the current while trying to cross the Rio Grande to Brownsville

Tania Vanessa Ávalos (center) is assisted by Mexican authorities after her husband and daughter were swept away by a strong current

Tania Vanessa Ávalos (center) is assisted by Mexican authorities after her husband and daughter were swept away by a strong current

Tania Vanessa Ávalos (center) is assisted by Mexican authorities after her husband and daughter were swept away by a strong current

After two months in southern Mexico with no prospect of entering the US legally,  the family decided to make their way to the border to push their case forward. 

According to Oscar’s parents, who were in constant contact with them when they were in Mexico, someone told him it would be ‘easy’ to cross illegally if they had to.  

They boarded a bus to Matamoros and when they arrived on Sunday, went straight to the International Bridge to try to plead their case but were disheartened when they arrived to find the office closed because it was a weekend. 

They were also told that they would likely have to wait weeks if not months for their appointment because so many other families were in front of them. 

According to Julia Le Duc, the journalist who photographed their bodies, there are 300 people awaiting asylum interviews there and only three slots a week. 

Desperate, they decided to try to cross themselves and made their way to the river bank.  

Before their deaths, Oscar sent his mother a final text message. It said: ‘Mama, I love you. We’re fine here, look after yourselves.’

She has since described him as a ‘polite’. 

His parents want their deaths to serve as a lesson for anyone who is thinking about crossing the border. 

Grieving: Oscar Ramirez' mother, Rosa, weeps as she holds up dolls which Valeria used to play with. She said she begged them not to attempt the crossing but that they were determined to live the American dream

Grieving: Oscar Ramirez' mother, Rosa, weeps as she holds up dolls which Valeria used to play with. She said she begged them not to attempt the crossing but that they were determined to live the American dream

Grieving: Oscar Ramirez’ mother, Rosa, weeps as she holds up dolls which Valeria used to play with. She said she begged them not to attempt the crossing but that they were determined to live the American dream

‘I hope that this serves as a lesson to everyone that crossing over is easy. 

‘It’s not. It’s risking your lives,’ she told local media outlet La Prensa.

Le Duc, writing for The Guardian, described how news of their deaths emerged at the border on Sunday. 

‘There was an emergency call about a woman who was in a desperate way down by the river. We heard the report and went down to the river where she was shouting and screaming that the current had taken her daughter.

‘Later we found out her name was Vanessa Ávalos. We could hear her telling the officials that they had been in Mexico for two months and wanted to ask for asylum in the US. 

 I beg you, to all the families, parents, don’t risk it. Life is worth a lot more
Salvadoran Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexandra Hill

‘She said they they’d been in Tapachula in the south of Mexico and they’d applied for a humanitarian visa [allowing them to stay and work in Mexico for a year] but they wanted the American dream – so they took a bus up to the border,’ she said. 

Harrowing photographs from the scene show Tania desperately pointing to the water where her husband and daughter were swept away.

Mexican police took a boat out to try to find them but they suspended the search on Sunday night. 

On Monday morning, their bodies were found 500m downstream. 

‘I’ve been a police reporter for many years, and I’ve seen a lot of bodies – and a lot of drownings. The Rio Bravo is a very strong river: you think it’s just shallow, but there are lots of currents and whirlpools.

‘You get numb to it, but when you see something like this it re-sensitizes you. 

‘You could see that the father had put her inside his T-shirt so the current wouldn’t pull her away.

‘He died trying to save his daughter’s life,’ she said. 

The El Salvadorian government has agreed to pay repatriation costs to bring the bodies home. 

The photograph prompted the Salvadoran Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexandra Hill to make a desperate plea to other families considering the journey. 

‘Our country is in mourning, again. I beg you, to all the families, parents, don’t risk it. ‘Life is worth a lot more,’ she said at a press conference on Monday.  

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