An illegal immigrant who gave up his long walk into the U.S. to help a boy whose mother was killed in a van crash in the desert said Wednesday that he never thought of leaving the child.
"I am a father of four children. For that, I stayed," Manuel Jesus Cordova Soberanes said in Spanish from his home in the Mexican state of Sonora. "I never could have left him. Never."
Authorities said Cordova may have saved the life of 9-year-old Christopher Buztheitner, whose mother was killed when their van ran off a cliff in a remote area north of the Mexican border on Thanksgiving Day.
A spokeswoman for the Mexican consulate in Nogales said the office is working to obtain a short-term visa for Cordova so he can come to Arizona and be recognized for his actions.
The 26-year-old bricklayer was two days into his walk and about 50 miles from Tucson when he saw the boy, who had walked away from the crash.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press from his home in Magdalena de Kino, Mexico, Cordova said Christopher had scrapes on his leg and was dressed in shorts despite the desert cold.
The boy had his dog with him and was holding a side mirror from the wrecked van.
'I just sat next to him'
Neither Cordova nor Christopher spoke the other's language, but the boy took the migrant to the edge of a canyon and showed him the accident site.
Authorities said Christopher and his mother, 45-year-old Dawn Alice Tomko, had been in the area camping. Tomko was driving on a U.S. Forest Service road when she lost control of the van, which landed 300 feet from the road.
By the looks of the mangled van down below, Cordova said, it was obvious the boy's mother had died. The child was distraught but did not cry.
"I felt frustrated and sad because I couldn't do anything for the mother," Cordova said. "And I didn't know how to console the boy, so I just sat next to him."
Cordova gave the boy the sweater he was wearing, climbed down to the van, and found chocolate and cookies to feed him.
He then built a bonfire, and the two hunkered down. The boy slept most of the night; Cordova kept watch and tended the fire.
Mexican mayor calls man a hero
Fourteen hours later, a group of hunters found the pair and called for help. U.S. Border Patrol agents took Cordova into custody, and Christopher was flown to a hospital in Tucson.
Christopher was reunited with family over the weekend; a message left with his uncle was not immediately returned Wednesday.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada said Cordova is "very, very special and compassionate" and may have saved the boy's life.
Adriana Hoyos Rodriguez, the mayor of Magdalena de Kino, called Cordova a hero. "He left everything to save that boy," she said.
Cordova said he wanted to come to the United States to earn money to feed his four children, who live with their mother, and help support his girlfriend's three children. "I have two families, many mouths to feed," he said.
He said that even though his trip was thwarted, he is glad to be back home and wishes Christopher the best. "I hope he has a good life," he said.