This story was reported for The Brownsville Herald.
A man from Guatemala seeking asylum in the United States was found dead in the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Tamaulipas on Tuesday evening.
A video taken by a reporter on scene in Matamoros showed Mexican law enforcement carrying a body bag up the steep dirt bank of the river just a few hundred feet from the camp of asylum seekers by the Gateway International Bridge.
The area has since been cordoned off with police tape. According to the journalist who took the video, the man was found around 5:30 p.m.
Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, was seen leading the man’s family out of the camp just after 6 p.m. She was aided by asylum seekers who held a weeping young woman up on each side.
Advocates confirmed authorities were helping make arrangements to send the family — including the man’s spouse, sister, and a grandmother — with his body to Guatemala for repatriation.
Josue, an asylum seeker in the camp, confirmed that other camp residents were aware of the drowning and shared that the man’s sister had just birthed a baby girl.
He said, “Only God can help us in this moment.”
Aid workers in the camp knew the man and were expecting to see him on Tuesday. One who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “We just saw him on Sunday. He was helping us deliver tents. We were expecting him today and he didn’t show up.”
The man was found without documents, according to aid workers. One said it’s uncertain whether the documents were lost in the river or if they were taken from him. “Nobody is talking; they are scared,” she said when asked if anyone had information on the death.
The young man’s identity is not confirmed, but advocates with Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley identified him as Rodrigo, a young camp leader from Guatemala.
“We are heartbroken at Rodrigo’s death. He was a young man who took the responsibility of his family and the camp very seriously. He was a natural leader and he was always available to facilitate any of our efforts to support the camp. His death could have been prevented, we believe, if a desperate situation had not been created along our southern border,” the coalition wrote in a statement.
“We have all been worried that we would see drowning deaths again soon, as people grow desperate to cross, as they give up hope of EVER having their asylum requests heard. The door has been slammed shut on ‘the legal way’ for six months now, and the horrible conditions of this camp are not appropriate for human habitation.”
Update: An advocate reported that camp residents plan to hold a vigil for Rodrigo at 10:00 p.m. in the plaza.
Matamoros-based outlet Noticias Fronteradice reported on social media, “The young man who was found drowned in the waters of the Bravo River was identified as Edwin Rodrigo Castro de la Parra, 20 years old, was originally from Guatemala and was leader of the migrant camp located on board.
The deceased was identified by his wife, who declared that he had only stepped into bathing like every day but unfortunately did not return to camp.
It was reported that the young man had stepped into the river and spent hours and did not appear so his family and other migrants started the search and was found minutes later floating.”
Sister Norma wrote late Tuesday, “Everyone asks ‘what happened? Was he trying to cross the river?’ But he wasn’t. Everyone knew he can’t swim. He got close to see some pregnant women who were attempting to cross the river & he heard one scream and thought she needed help. then suddenly he is gone. He fell into the river & drowned. El rio bravo se convierte en el rio de sangre! muchas vidas ya a tomado. Que triste que trágicamente inocente víctimas que buscan la vida encuentran la muerte. cuantas más vidas para que termine esta tragedia que continuamente está ocurriendo por ya más de un año causada por MPP.”
EnlaceMx Noticias reported that the body was first reported at 4:00 p.m. and it was at 5:15 that the body was recovered by law enforcement and firefighters.