4 wildfire casualties returned to Mexico

4 wildfire casualties returned to Mexico

8 January 2008

published by www.signonsandiego.com

USA/Mexiko — The bodies of four victims of the October wildfires have arrived home for burial in Mexico, 2½ months after setting off on their ill-fated journeys north.

Yesterday, family members in the small town of Mazatlan, Guerrero, buried the bodies of Arely Peralta Rivera, 25, and Rubén Santos Ramírez, 28, a married couple who had left the town of about 5,000 near Acapulco for Tijuana Oct. 20, hoping to be smuggled across the border into the United States.

The couple, along with two others, were found dead several days later in a ravine off state Route 94 in Dulzura, in an area blackened by the Harris fire.

The other victims in the ravine were their friend Lourdes Eugenio Tadeo, 21, who was traveling with them, and Rubén Méndez Hernández, 32, a father of three from Irapuato, Guanajuato. All were identified by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office late last month through DNA samples.

Peralta, Santos and Eugenio were three of five people from the same town who left together for Tijuana. Only one is known to have survived the trip. The fifth, companion Alejandro Martínez Flores, 20, was rescued from the blaze but died from injuries Nov. 11 at UCSD Medical Center.

Yesterday afternoon, a relative who answered the telephone at Peralta’s parents’ home said the couple’s bodies arrived Sunday, and Eugenio’s yesterday; most family members of the couple were still at the cemetery following their burial.

“We’re all very sad, all of us,” said Peralta’s aunt, Teresa Peralta Ramírez.

The couple, along with Eugenio, had been headed to Orange County, where Peralta and Santos had relatives and Eugenio had her fiance.

In Irapuato, a large city in central Mexico, Erika Corona Martínez was preparing yesterday for her husband’s funeral. His body arrived yesterday morning, she said.

Méndez, a plumber by trade, was headed to Los Angeles to work; now Corona has taken a job cleaning homes to make ends meet.

“We’re OK,” Corona said, sounding tired. “Now we have him. Now we know. Now he can rest, and we can rest also.”

The families of the four victims found in Dulzura endured an agonizing wait while their loved ones were being identified. Burned beyond recognition, they could be identified only through DNA, provided by immediate relatives in Mexico.

Arely Peralta’s father, Concepción Peralta Ramírez, had grown so desperate waiting at home that he traveled to San Diego last month, hoping to get an answer about his daughter’s fate.

His hope of finding her alive faded after he surveyed the fire-devastated backcountry. On Dec. 20, three days before he was due to return home, he received the news that her body had been identified.

The Harris fire had its deadliest effect in a rugged area near Tecate that is known for human-smuggling traffic. Of the 10 people known to have died in the October wildfires, seven were Mexican nationals, trapped by the Harris fire along the smuggling trails that crisscross the area. Several others were seriously injured.

After arriving home from the cemetery last night, Peralta’s mother said the couple was buried next to their only child, a baby girl who died from a birth defect two years ago, before reaching her second birthday.

“They’re happy next to their baby,” said Emilia Rivera, Peralta’s mother. “But we here are sad.”

She vowed that her youngest daughter – of her three surviving children, the only one who is still in Mexico – would never be allowed to head north, not after what happened to her sister. “We’re disconsolate,” she said. “All of this so she could go earn an extra dollar, because here there are none.”

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