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Mom dies with teen children nearby

July 31, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

OCOTILLO — When Natalia Hernandez Perez left her native state of Oaxaca in Mexico with her two children, she was following a dream that would lead her to the Imperial Valley desert.

And to death.

Her story is likely similar to those of most of those who have died while trying to enter the United States illegally through the Valley.

However, her story stands out simply because reporters seldom get more information beyond the basic facts about those who crossed the border illegally and died — basically when and how the death occurred.

This morning there were a few more details available because Hernandez was not alone when she died. She was with her children, who survived the trek through the desert. She also was with a group of 14 undocumented immigrants who stayed with her and even went for help in an effort to save her life.

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County Coroner Investigator Gary Hayes responded to the death scene in the No Mirage area of the desert near Ocotillo.

There he learned a bit about the 35-year-old Hernandez, who had died only a short time earlier — maybe a half hour earlier — from exposure to the desert heat.

Hayes told a reporter the story of a woman who left Oaxaca with, a son and daughter, one 15, the other 16.

Together they rode a bus to Mexico City, from where they took a flight to Tijuana.

In Tijuana they met a "coyote," the name for the smugglers who guide people into the United States. That coyote led them to the mountains east of the Imperial Valley.

There was no information about how much the woman had spent or how long it had taken her to get from Oaxaca to the Valley.

What is known is that her stay in the Valley was short.

On Monday, before daybreak, Hernandez, her children and a group of other undocumented immigrants — about 14 in all — set out to cross the Valley.

They made their way into an area near Ocotillo, but they did not get much farther.

Sometime before 2 p.m., Hernandez became ill. At least one member of the group went for help, going to a house in Ocotillo and calling for aid.

The Border Patrol responded to the area by about 2:30 p.m. Agents found the woman and attempted to give her cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but it was too late.

Hayes said she likely had been dead a half hour before the agents arrived.

He said the Border Patrol provided care to the other immigrants, all of whom had stayed in the area and were suffering from some level of dehydration.

Hayes said while the group started the journey with water, by the time the people were found they had no water left.

While Hayes did not have specific information, he said by now the surviving immigrants had likely been processed back into Mexico.

Specific information on the fate of Hernandez's children was unavailable this morning.

Also unknown was the fate of the "coyote" who led the group into the desert. Hayes said there was no smuggler on scene when the Border Patrol arrived.

Hernandez's journey is not over.

The Coroner's Office was to perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death and then the body was to be released to the Mexican consulate in Calexico for the last leg of her journey.

The body will be returned to Oaxaca.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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