SAN JOSE LAS FLORES, Guatemala — A 15-year-old Guatemalan boy whose death became a symbol of the perils facing children attempting to illegally cross into the United States was buried in his hometown Saturday, amid prayers and tears from his family.
Neighbors in this mountain village filled the small home where Gilberto Francisco Ramos Juarez grew up, turning the room where he slept on the floor into a space to mourn over his gray and silver coffin.
A white bow hung on the front door in a sign of mourning. Inside the humble concrete home, women cried and prayed while men waited to carry Gilberto’s body to the hilltop cemetery overlooking the village. Amid highland flowers and candles sat a photograph of the boy.
“Ay, my son, now I won’t see you again,” his mother, Cipriana Juarez, shouted between tears.
The boy’s decomposed body was discovered on June 15 in the Rio Grande Valley, not far inside Texas from the border with Mexico. Around his neck was a rosary he had received as a gift for his first communion as a Roman Catholic. Scribbled inside his belt buckle was the phone number of an older brother in Chicago he had hoped to reach.
He apparently got lost on his way north and likely died from exposure in hot, dry brush country of South Texas. An autopsy did not find signs of trauma. His body was less than a mile from a nearby home.
Gilberto’s death highlighted the hardships that afflict young migrants. The U.S. government is searching for ways to deal with record numbers of unaccompanied children who are sneaking into the country, fleeing poverty and violence in Central America.
The family said Gilberto had hoped to find work to pay for medicine his mother needs. Workers in the mountains of northern Guatemala earn about $3.50 a day, said his uncle, Catarino Ramos.
“He left because of poverty, because he wanted to help buy his mother’s medicine,” Catarino Ramos said.
Now, the family will have to find a way to repay the $2,500 loan they took out, mortgaging their home, to pay for Gilberto’s journey.
“Here, only sadness will remain,” said the boy’s father, Francisco Ramos.