GUATEMALA CITY — The body of a 15-year-old migrant was brought home Friday, nearly a month after he died in the hot, dry brushland of southern Texas and became a symbol for the perils facing unaccompanied children who have been flooding illegally into the U.S.
The remains of Gilberto Francisco Ramos Juarez were flown to Guatemala City in a cargo plane and turned over to his father at the airport's small chapel.
Gilberto's father, Francisco Ramos, then took the gray and silver coffin with a photo of the boy attached to it in a pickup truck to his mountain hometown of San Jose de las Flores, where the family planned to hold a wake for him Friday night. He was to be buried Saturday.
"I'm really sad because of his death," Ramos said while holding a photograph of his son standing next to a small wooden horse.
The man, who dressed in all black and wore a black hat, traveled 200 miles to Guatemala City accompanied by his brothers. He said the boy's mother was too ill to make the nine-hour journey.
The discovery of the boy's decomposed body in the Rio Grande Valley on June 15 highlighted the hardships that afflict young migrants as the U.S. government searches for ways to deal with record numbers of children from Central America who are sneaking into the country.
Gilberto was found with a rosary that his mother gave him still around his neck and a brother's Chicago phone number scribbled on the inside of his belt buckle. The body was less than a mile from the nearest U.S. home. He apparently got lost on his way north and likely died from exposure. An autopsy did not find signs of trauma.
His father said that the family had borrowed the $2,500 the boy needed to make the trip north and that they still owe the money.
The boy's uncle, Catarino Ramos, said workers make about $3.50 for a day's work where they live in the mountains of northern Guatemala.
"He left because of poverty, because he wanted to help buy his mother's medicine," Catarino Ramos said.