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'In seeking a better life, he found death': Honduran mom mourns son killed in U.S.

Jorge Alfredo Barralaga lost his life after a packed van transporting around 30 people who had migrated to the U.S. overturned along the border in Texas.
Image: Texas Department of Public Safety officers stand near a van that crashed into a utility pole on Aug. 4, 2021, in Encino, Texas.
Texas Public Safety Department officers stand near a van that crashed into a utility pole Wednesday in Encino.Delcia Lopez / The Monitor via AP

Jorge Alfredo Barralaga, who was known as Jorgito to his family, left his native country of Honduras when he was 22 years old. He decided to emigrate to the U.S. because in Guanaja, an island in Honduras, he could not find work. 

“In seeking a better life, he found death," his mother, Zulma Herrera, told Noticias Telemundo.

Barralaga is one of 10 migrants — six Hondurans, three Mexicans and a Guatemalan — who died when a packed white Ford truck transporting them and about 20 other people overturned after it made a speedy turn on a highway near the town of Encino, Texas, along the border. Authorities think the vehicle's excess weight — it was supposed to carry only 15 people — was a factor.

Before he embarked on his trip, Barralaga told his mother that he loved her and that he was leaving to find opportunities for her sake.

Jorge Alfredo Barralaga with his sister, left, and mother.
Jorge Alfredo Barralaga with his sister, left, and mother. Courtesy Zulma Herrera

 “He was tired of seeing me work so much,” said Herrera, who sells baleadas, a typical Honduran dish made with flour tortillas and beans. “He told me, 'Mom, when I get there, you will lack for nothing — when I arrive, you'll no longer have to kill yourself working,'" she said he told her before he left. "'I will build a house for you, and I will set up a business for you so you and my sister are well and not suffering in poverty.'"

Images sent to Noticias Telemundo show the rural house that Barralaga left behind: dirt floors, wooden walls and just the most basic services.

Barralaga went to high school on the mainland, in the town of Colón, where he lived with his paternal grandmother. But when he returned to Guanaja, he was unable to find a job. That and his parents' poor health motivated him to seek a better life in the U.S.

The situation in Honduras has become critical, said Hilton Ferrera, Barralaga's uncle. "You look for work and can't find it," he said. "Sometimes you study for nothing."

Ferrera learned of the accident through José’s sister, who had also migrated and survived the accident. She preferred not to give her real name for fear of reprisals. “[She called me] to tell me that my nephew was dead," Ferrera said.

It took more than 48 hours for the Honduran Consulate in McAllen to confirm that Barralaga was among the 10 who died. The family still did not know where his remains were being held, and they were frustrated that they could not reach someone for more information.

From Honduras, the Foreign Ministry told Noticias Telemundo that government representatives had spoken with four of the six families whose relatives were killed. Seven other Hondurans were injured.

'I want to say goodbye'

After the tragedy, Herrera has only one wish. “I just want to bring the body of my son. I want to say goodbye,” she said.

Jorge Alfredo Barralaga
Jorge Alfredo Barralaga's family believes he was killed in a van crash in Encino, Texas. Courtesy Zulma Herrera

Herrera does not know how they are going to repatriate the body. “We don’t have money for that, to be able to bring him here,” she said. To raise money and return the young man to Honduras, relatives created a GoFundMe page.

Barralaga has relatives in the U.S., but because they do not have legal immigration status, they are afraid to ask for his remains.

“We don’t have documents. We don’t have papers to be able to go find our nephew. That is our helplessness. Our family in Honduras talks to us and asks us what we know,” Barralaga's uncle said between sobs.

Kidnapped in Mexico

Barralaga fled poverty in Honduras — only to have to flee later from a safe house in Mexico where he was held hostage for more than three months. 

The kidnappers asked his family, who are now in debt, for around $5,000 to free Barralaga. His uncle said Barralaga had to escape after more than three months in captivity because the kidnappers would not let him and others go.

“We haven't found peace anywhere, because in Honduras it’s the same. Because of crime and poverty, you can’t live there. That’s why one emigrates," Ferrera said.

In Guanaja, family, friends and neighbors remembered Barralaga with balloons and music in his honor.

A version of this story was first published in Noticias Telemundo.

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