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Honduran teen trying to reunite with his mother drowns in Rio Grande

The body of Cristopher Alvarado Sabillón, 14, was found Wednesday on the Mexican side of the river, his family said.
A photo of Cristopher Alvarado Sabillón, 14, stands over a small altar in his mother's house in Houston.
A photo of Cristopher Alvarado Sabillón, 14, stands over a small altar in his mother's house in Houston.Courtesy Alvarado Sabillón family

HOUSTON — Cristopher Alvarado Sabillón couldn't wait to be reunited with his mother in Texas. But those hopes ended in tragedy this week after the Honduran teen drowned in the Rio Grande River, his family said.

The 14-year-old had embarked on a trek from Honduras to the U.S.-Mexico border alongside two cousins and his sister, all minors, according to his family.

While struggling to cross the river that divides the Mexican city of Piedras Negras with Eagle Pass in Texas on Saturday night, Cristopher's sister reached her hand out toward her brother in an attempt to help him through the strong currents.

But she was never able to hold on to Cristopher. It was so dark, the 16-year-old girl could barely see anything. That's when she started yelling out her brother's name.

"He never answered me," Cristopher's sister, who remains in the custody of Health and Human Services alongside her cousins, told her family in Spanish during a phone call Wednesday. "I never saw him again."

Border patrol agents said they initiated a search for Cristopher after learning he had gone missing while trying to cross the river Saturday night.

Four days later, Roxana Sabillón, Cristopher’s mother, received a photo confirming her worst fear. Her son’s body was found floating on the Mexican side of the river.

Cristopher Alvarado Sabillón alongside his sister and cousins.
Cristopher Alvarado Sabillón alongside his sister and cousins.Courtesy Alvarado Sabillón family

"They took away half my life, they took it away from me," the mother told Noticias Telemundo an hour later, still in disbelief. "Now all I have left is standing next to a wooden box to give him his last goodbye. And that hug that I didn't give him," Sabillón said in Spanish.

Sabillón immigrated to the U.S. in 2016, leaving Cristopher and his sister with their grandparents in Honduras. She believes that years of rampant crime and gang activity, which takes its toll on children and adolescents, may have pushed her children to flee with their cousins without her knowledge.

During the four days Cristopher was missing, at least 10 other people migrating to the U.S. drowned trying to cross the river in the same spot. On Wednesday, border patrol agents said they rescued about a dozen people who were "swept off their feet by the swift current" while trying to cross the Rio Grande River near the Camino Real International Bridge.

Over the past fiscal year, border patrol agents have searched for more than 7,000 migrants who've been reported missing, Noticias Telemundo reported.

The grief-stricken family is now looking to have Cristopher's body transported from Mexico to Houston for burial.

They are also trying to obtain a humanitarian permit that would allow Cristopher’s grandparents, who raised the teen in Honduras, to attend the burial in Houston.

“That child's dream was to be here in the United States with his mother," Edgar Turcios, Sabillón's husband and Cristopher's stepfather, said in Spanish. "Unfortunately, that is no longer possible."

Damià Bonmatí reported from Houston, and Nicole Acevedo from New York.

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