Guatemalan girl likely died of 'sepsis shock' after crossing border, hospital officials said

Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, had a 105.9-degree temperature and was revived twice by medical technicians before being flown by helicopter to a hospital.
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By Amanda Covarrubias

Hospital officials who treated a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in U.S. Border Patrol custody said she appears to have died from "sepsis shock," according to the most detailed timeline of her death released by the Department of Homeland Security.

Autopsy results that will provide the official cause of death were still pending early Monday.

The statement released by DHS elaborated on what happened to Jakelin Caal Maquin in the hours after she and her father were apprehended by federal authorities and she became ill.

She and her father, Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz, were picked up by U.S. authorities with a group of 163 migrants on Dec. 6 in a remote stretch of the New Mexico desert near the Antelope Wells Port of Entry. Hours later, after being put on a bus to a Border Patrol station, she began vomiting and died Dec. 8 at a hospital in El Paso, Texas.

Her death raised questions about how well authorities are prepared to deal with such emergencies and provided fuel for critics of the Trump administration's tough posture toward migrants crossing the border illegally.

The DHS said Border Patrol agents screened the migrants to identify any health or safety concerns.

"The initial screening revealed no evidence of health issues," the DHS statement released Friday said. "During the screening, the father denied that either he or his daughter were ill."

Authorities said the denial was recorded on a federal form signed by Caal, who speaks an indigenous dialect.

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"At this time, they were offered water and food and had access to restrooms," DHS said.

About two hours later, a bus took the first group of migrants, unaccompanied minors, to the Border Patrol station in Lordsburg, New Mexico. The roundtrip took more than three hours.

Claudia Marroquin, 27, the mother of Jakelin Caal Maquin, is seen with her three other young children in San Antonio Secortez, Guatemala, on Saturday.Esteban Biba / EPA

As the second group, including the Caals, was preparing to leave on the bus around 5 a.m. on Dec. 7, Caal told Border Patrol agents that his daughter had become ill and was vomiting. Agents arranged for an ambulance to meet the family's bus at the border patrol station in Lordsburg about 90 miles away.

When they arrived at the station around an hour and a half later, Caal told authorities his daughter had stopped breathing. Border Patrol emergency medical technicians began administering medical care and called an ambulance, according to DHS.

"At this point her temperature was 105.9 degrees," the DHS said. "Agents providing medical care revived the child twice."

She was flown by helicopter to Providence Children's Hospital, and Border Patrol took Caal there by vehicle, a drive of more than four hours.

DHS said Jakelin was first taken to the emergency room and then transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit. She died at 12:35 a.m. on Dec. 8.

"The initial indication form Providence Hospital is that she passed due to sepsis shock," the DHS said. "Her father was with her."

Sepsis is the body's extreme response to an existing infection somewhere in the body that can lead to rapid organ failure and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials said the Guatemalan consulate was notified.

The DHS statement also included an admonishment to migrants trying to get to the U.S.

"Traveling north illegally into the United States is extremely dangerous," the DHS said. "Drug cartels, human smugglers and the elements pose deadly risks to anyone who attempts to cross the border illegally. Once again, we are begging parents to not put themselves or their children at risk by attempting to enter illegally.

Attorneys for Jakelin's family rebutted the idea that she had been taken on a dangerous journey with little food and water.

"Jakelin's father took care of Jakelin — made sure she was fed and had sufficient water," the family's attorneys said in a statement on Saturday.

Caal and Jakelin were trying to "escape from the dangerous situation in their home country," the attorneys said.