CHICAGO, IL -- Esbin Ramos gets teary-eyed looking at the only photograph he has of his brother, Gilberto. Ramos had been anxiously waiting to be reunited with 15-year-old Gilberto who was to join him at his home just outside of Chicago.
"I had talked to (Gilberto) days prior while he was in Reynosa, Mexico, waiting to cross. He told me he was OK, had food and was eager to see me," says Ramos.
Ramos says his brother was desperate to leave Guatemala and earn money to help their sick mother.
Ramos said he was worried when he did not hear from his brother and called the Guatemalan embassy. Then he got a call he never expected - his brother was found dead in a desert area near McAllen Texas.
Last Monday, Texas sheriff's officials announced that on June 15th they had located a decomposed body in some brush area near the U.S.-Mexico border. The body — of what authorities thought at the time was an 11-year-old boy — was shirtless and his belt contained three telephone numbers scribbled on the inner part of the weathered leather.
With assistance from their father in Guatemala and the description of Gilberto and the clothes he was last seen wearing were obtained, the family confirmed he was the victim. He was 15 years old.
According to family members, Gilberto had been planning his trip to the U.S. for 8 months. This past April, Gilberto finally left his rural and impoverished town outside of Guatemala City and, with another minor, set off on his journey to achieve what was his dream — to make it to Chicago, work and help provide the means for a better life for his mother who is battling epilepsy.
Fearing the dangers of the journey and wishing for his success, Gilberto's mother draped him with a white rosary for a safe passage, and the family borrowed a few thousand dollars to pay a “coyote” that helped Gilberto along the way.
Now grief stricken, they pray for the strength needed to overcome his death and the debt left over.
Gilberto's demise is the first death of a minor along the Texas-Mexico border since the influx of unaccompanied children and families began a few months ago. Authorities have not confirmed the cause of death, although they believe Gilberto succumbed to the effects of heatstroke.
His brother Esbin spoke to family members of the other minor who was making the journey with Gilberto. The boy, who is currently housed in a U.S. detention center, said they crossed as a group, but all dispersed and went their separate ways after being spotted by Border Patrol.
"He was probably scared, ran and got lost," says Ramos of his younger brother. Back in Guatemala, arrangements are being made with the assistance of the consulate to return Gilberto’s body to not only his native homeland but to his mourning family.