Felipe Gomez Alonzo: Eight-year-old Guatemalan boy who died at US border had flu, autopsy shows

'I’m sad and in despair over the death of my son,' mother says

Tom Embury-Dennis
Friday 28 December 2018 12:17 GMT

An eight-year-old Guatemalan boy who died while being held in custody by US Border Patrol had the flu, an autopsy has revealed.

The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator said more tests were needed before a cause of death could be determined for Felipe Gomez Alonzo.

Authorities say Felipe died at a New Mexico hospital after suffering coughing, vomiting and a fever.

Another Guatemalan child, seven-year-old Jakelin Caal, died in US custody earlier this month. Both deaths are under investigation.

“I’m sad and in despair over the death of my son,” the boy’s 32-year-old mother, Catarina Alonzo Perez, told Reuters by phone from her home in the tiny village of Yalambojoch.

Felipe’s father took his son to the US-Mexico border after hearing rumours that parents and their children would be allowed to migrate to the US and escape the poverty in their homeland, the boy’s stepsister said.

“We heard rumours that they could pass. They said they could pass with the children,” said Catarina Gomez Lucas, 21, explaining why Felipe and his father, Agustin Gomez, made the dangerous journey.

She would not say who spread the rumours or who transported the father and son to the border from Yalambojoch in Huehuetenango province, a poor community of returnees from Mexico who had fled Guatemala in the bloodiest years of that country’s 1960-1996 civil war.

The boy’s death came during an ongoing dispute over border security and with the US government partially shut down over Donald Trump’s insistence on funding for a longer border wall.

Ms Perez said she spoke with her son the day before they arrived at the US border.

“He wasn’t sick on the way; he wasn’t sick here,” she said through her stepdaughter in the Mayan language known as Chuj.

Former Border Patrol officer defended the use of pepper spray on migrants at the US-Mexico border: 'it’s natural. You could actually put it on your nachos and eat it'

Both Felipe and Jakelin came from rural communities with extreme poverty. Both were taken to the border by their parents and detained by the US Border Patrol before they fell ill.

It appears Felipe got sick after authorities moved him from El Paso, Texas, to Alamogordo, New Mexico, because of overcrowding.

Ms Gomez Lucas said the family stopped hearing from Felipe’s father on 18 December, when he and the boy were detained. On Christmas day, he called to say the boy had died in a hospital.

“He told us that (Felipe) was fine all day, that he was playing with other children. But then he said he felt bad and his stomach ached,” the stepsister said.

Felipe told his father he did not know what was wrong with him and that it felt like something was stuck in his throat, Ms Gomez Lucas said.

The father said Felipe asked him not to cry because he “was not going to get better,” according to the boy’s stepsister.

Felipe was taken to a hospital, and the father said he gave the boy to doctors, who soon informed him his son had died.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said the boy displayed signs of illness on Monday and was taken with his father to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a cold and a fever and prescribed amoxicillin and ibuprofen.

He was released that afternoon but returned in the evening with nausea and vomiting and died there just after midnight, CBP said.

After the two deaths, the government announced it would conduct additional medical screening for children and consider other changes.

Moving forward all children will receive “a more thorough hands on assessment” as soon as possible after being apprehended, whether or not the adult with them asks for one, US department of homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement.

Mr Gomez was drowning in debt, Ms Gomez Lucas said. He sold a piece of land to survive, but the money was not enough, so he decided to take out a loan and travel to the US.

Felipe is survived by five siblings, two from his father’s first marriage and three from his stepmother and father.

The boy lived with his father’s family in a small wooden house with earthen floors. It lacked basic services. Ms Gomez Lucas said Felipe’s father earned about $6 (£4.75) a day through temporary farm jobs or harvesting coffee, which was not enough to support the family.

As with Jakelin’s family, Felipe’s relatives now must deal with the death of a child, a debt and their continued worry about the fate of Mr Gomez.

Oscar Padilla, the Guatemalan consul in Phoenix, confirmed that the father is still detained by the Border Patrol.

“My father is suffering because of the boy. We do not know what will happen. We have nothing to live with. We do not have money,” Ms Gomez Lucas said.

Additional reporting by agencies

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in