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5 die; most deaths in desert since ’01

Citizen Staff

4 others survive 113-degree heat near Gila Bend



Gerardo Galvez Ramirez has no radio or television in Huexaopa, the village where he lives with his wife and daughters in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

So he never heard the U.S. government’s radio and TV warnings about illegally crossing the border into Arizona during the searing summer heat.

He thought Arizona would be cool and rainy, like his home in southern Mexico.

Instead, it hit 113 as he was rescued Sunday near Gila Bend. Five people in his group of 10 died – the single deadliest border-crossing incident in Arizona since May 2001. A sixth is presumed dead.

Among the survivors were Galvez’s 16-year-old brother and 15-year-old cousin. He carried his cousin on his back when she became too weak to walk, he said.

Galvez hoped to get a job picking grapes in Fresno, Calif.

Galvez, a 27-year-old father of two, is being held in Tucson by the Border Patrol and is cooperating in a federal investigation.

The smuggler who guided the group is dead, Galvez said in an interview yesterday. Border Patrol officials said they are not sure.

Galvez crossed the border on foot Thursday night near Lukeville, he said. His group had been driven to Sonoyta, Son., after flying into Tijuana from the central Mexico state of Morelos, he said.

Each immigrant carried tortillas and three gallons of water, one for each day of the 70-mile walk.

Galvez trusted the coyote (people smuggler), who was from his hometown, Galvez said. The coyote said there was nothing to fear and did not charge Galvez a fee, he said.

They walked all of each night and most of each day, resting occasionally for half an hour or so, he said.

On the second day, they were almost out of water. He, his brother and cousin shared the few tablespoons they had left, he said.

Galvez’s cousin, Christina Ramirez Peñalosa, had to be carried at times.

“I told her I would not abandon her,” he said.

When five of the others became too weak to walk, Galvez and his family members went on in search of a canal he was told was a few miles away.

He set out at about 1 a.m., expecting to find water in no more than two hours.

By 6 a.m., “there was no canal” and he began to fear for his life and the lives of the others.

“I prayed to God that he would save me,” Galvez said.

Sunday, he flagged down a passing car just west of Gila Bend and asked the people inside “to call police” for help. Galvez said he led agents to the bodies.

The dead include the coyote, the coyote’s parents and the coyote’s 20-year-old cousin, Galvez said.

His wife, Aurelia Maldonado, and their two daughters, Laura, 5, and Anadelia, 2, had no idea yesterday where he was or whether he was alive, Galvez said.

Andy Adame, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, said Mexican consular officials have been notified.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are trying to determine who was responsible for leading the Mexicans to their death, Adame said. As of yesterday, he could not say the coyote is dead.

One other adult and two juveniles survived, Adame said. He would not identify them.

An adult and a youth are in stable condition in a Phoenix hospital, he said. The other youth is in federal custody. Adame would not say where.

The deaths marked the deadliest border crossing incident in Arizona since 14 immigrants were found dead near Yuma in May 2001.

Galvez said he will never again try to cross into the United States, but will need to seek work elsewhere in Mexico to try to support his family.


Gerardo Galvez Ramirez, 27, pauses during an interview at the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson sector headquarters yesterday. Galvez survived in the desert with two family members. Five people, including the smuggler, died in the group he was in near Paloma, west of Gila Bend, he said.

Gerardo Galvez Ramirez was unaware of the U.S. government’s advertising campaign warning would-be illegal immigrants of the dangers of crossing the desert in the summer. He did not have a television or radio at his home in Guerrero, Mexico.

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