The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

July 2, 2014

Guatemalan boy left for better life, died alone

— SAN JOSE LAS FLORES, Guatemala (AP) — Gilberto Ramos wanted to leave his chilly mountain village for the United States to earn money to treat his mother's epilepsy.

His mother begged him not to go. "The better treatment would have been if he stayed," Cipriana Juarez Diaz said in a tearful interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. When he wouldn't relent, she draped him with a white rosary for safe passage.

A month later, his decaying body was found in the Texas desert. Now, the boy has become a symbol for the perils faced by a record flood of unaccompanied children from Central America who are crossing illegally into the U.S.

Authorities said Monday that Gilberto was 11, which would have made him one of the youngest known such children to die crossing the desert. But his parents said Tuesday that Gilberto was 15.

The parents explained that they had taken several years to register his birth because of the remoteness of their village in Guatemala's northern mountains. When they did, they had forgotten Gilberto's actual birth date, so they listed the same date as his younger brother.

"He was a good son," Juarez said. "May God give me the strength to endure." The boy was shirtless, having likely suffered heat stroke, but still wearing the rosary.

Teenage boys seeking work have long been part of the stream of young men heading north from Central America, seeking to escape poverty and gang violence. But the number of unaccompanied immigrant children picked up along the U.S. border has been rising for three years.

Migrants tell of hearing that children traveling alone and parents traveling with young kids would be released by U.S. authorities and allowed to continue to their destination. Gilberto, too, had heard in Guatemala that if he got in, he would be allowed to stay, his family said.

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