It has been eight days since 20-year-old Everilda Chilel Lopez of Guatemala was abandoned, too weak and injured to continue walking through the vast, desolate ranchlands of Brooks County.
Her smuggler told family members it was cold and raining that night, so the group left her covered in black trash bags near a dried up lake about two hours south of the county airport. The group had been walking for four days through the thick brush, trying to circumvent the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint near Falfurrias.
Between January 2014 and December 2015, there were 96 Guatemalan natives reported missing in the Rio Grande Valley that were never heard from again, according to Guatemalan consulate statistics.
Authorities searching for Everilda have also been looking for a second woman who was left behind and the body of a man who a witness said was stomped to death by the same smuggler.
The last time Marta Lopez spoke to her younger sister was the Sunday after Christmas. Everilda had just crossed the Rio Grande and was being housed near McAllen along with a small group of illegal crossers, Marta said.
“The last thing she said to me was, ‘If it’s God’s will, I will be there with you soon to celebrate the New Year,’” Marta recalled Friday.
Everilda left her home in the village of Union, Guatemala, just after Christmas with the hope of continuing her studies in the United States. The youngest of seven sisters, Everilda always loved school but the lack of money forced her to begin working in the coffee fields at an early age, Marta said.
“She has always been really smart,” Marta said. “She wanted to go to school so she could get a good job and help out our family who is really poor.”
Most of Marta’s family still speaks in their native Mayan dialect, but Everilda made an effort to learn Spanish at an early age and now speaks it fluently, Marta said.
Their father, a farm worker in the milpas on the Guatemalan border with Chiapas, Mexico, borrowed 4,000 Quetzals or about $500 to pay a smuggler to bring Everilda all the way to the U.S.-Mexico border, south of the Rio Grande Valley.
Marta immigrated from the same poor farming village in 2010 and now lives with her husband in Georgia.
“It was poverty which drove us here,” Marta said. “My sister has sacrificed a lot, but her life is not worth it. If we had just a little bit of money and a future in our country, we would not have to make this dangerous journey.”
Everilda arrived to Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas, just south of Roma on Dec. 27, where she was left by her first guide. She was smuggled across the river that same day and was held for two days in a house in McAllen, according to Marta.
“I spoke to her that day, and she sounded tired and sad,” Marta said. “She said the man who was in charge of them was mean and the house was really dirty.”
For nearly one week, the family heard nothing about Everilda. The night of Jan. 2, the man in charge of smuggling the group across the Falfurrias checkpoint called to let them know they had to abandon Everilda near a dried up lake on the left side of Highway 281 south of Farm-to-Market Road 2191.
The family called the Guatemalan Consulate in McAllen and contacted U.S. Border Patrol, which has been looking for her since last Sunday night with no luck. Tuesday, BP issued a statement about the agency’s rescue efforts.
“Protecting our communities and saving human lives is of utmost importance to RGV Sector Border Patrol. We have manpower and resources in place to assist local authorities in responding to 9-1-1 calls regarding people who become lost or injured. Additionally, RGV Sector’s highly trained and well-equipped Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue Unit (BORSTAR) deploys throughout the region to assist with search-and-rescue operations,” the statement read.
Since 2010, there have been more than 1,000 remains found in the RGV sector, which currently stands as the busiest area for illegal crossings in the United States, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.
“We urge people to avoid placing their lives in the hands of callous human smugglers who are only concerned with making money and will abandon them if they become injured and cannot keep up with the group,” their statement read.
McAllen Guatemalan Consulate Allan Perez said they have been checking with immigration authorities on a daily basis for any news about Everilda.
“We received the report from the family on Jan. 4, and we immediately started checking with the detention centers to see if she had been picked up,” Perez said. “We also sent the information to immigration authorities.”
Since January 2014, the Guatemalan Consulate in McAllen has received more than 4,270 missing person’s reports. About 97 percent of these missing immigrants are found after they are picked up by Border Patrol agents and processed but some remain lost.
Thursday, family members received some new and disturbing details regarding the smuggler in charge of Everilda. A man who was part of the group called her family and said she was not the only one that was left behind during their four-day trek through Brooks County.
“He said there were three people that were left behind that same Saturday,” Marta said after speaking to the unidentified man over the phone. “They were left on the same day but they were left far apart.”
The man told Marta the smuggler first left behind a man after he kicked him and busted his face. He said he was sure the man was dead when because his body was heavy and felt lifeless when he moved him to a clearing nearby.
“He said he cried when they left the man behind and the guide did not want them to move his body, but he dragged him to a nearby trail and leaned him against a small tree,” Marta said.
The man said their group grew smaller when they abandoned a second woman in the brush that afternoon. Everilda was the last one they abandoned only a few hours before they were picked up past the checkpoint near Farm-to-Market Road 2191 about 7 p.m. Saturday. According to the National Weather Service, there was a low of 50 degrees Fahrenheit that night with light to heavy rain in the Falfurrias area.
Brooks County Chief Deputy Sheriff Urbino “Benny” Martinez said Border Patrol informed them of the new information Friday morning regarding the two missing women and the possible homicide and is on call in case they are found.
“We just got new information that we are working on, and I know that everyone is in dire straits in recovering these persons,” Martinez said. “Border Patrol is out there, and as soon as they get something, I will send an investigator.”
Meanwhile Everilda’s family on both sides of the border continues to pray for a miracle.
“My father tells me to have faith in God and ask him for a miracle,” Marta said Friday. “I think they will find her and even if it’s without life, we will accept it, and at least we will know she is done suffering.”