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Here’s the story behind the horrific photo of the man and toddler drowning at the border

The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter, Valeria, laid on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, on Monday after they drowned trying to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas. Julia Le Duc/Associated Press/Associated Press

Warning: Photos in this article contain sensitive content.

The devastating photograph of the Salvadoran man and his 23-month-old daughter lying face down in the Rio Grande’s muddy water has captured national attention for illuminating the perilous journey migrants face while seeking asylum in the United States.

The image shows the man’s shirt hiked up to his chest with the toddler tucked inside, her arm draped around his neck. It was taken by journalist Julia Le Duc on Monday and published by Mexican newspaper La Jornada.

Le Duc told the Associated Press that the man, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, 25, decided to brave the fast-moving waters of the Rio Grande with his daughter, Valeria, because he was frustrated that he and his family were unable to present themselves to US authorities for asylum.


After Martínez set his daughter on the US side of the river, he went back for his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, according to Le Duc. But when the toddler saw her father swim away, she jumped back in the water after him.

Martínez was able to turn back and grab Valeria, but the current swept them both away.

Martínez’s mother, Rosa Ramírez, confirmed the story to the Associated Press.

‘‘When the girl jumped in is when he tried to reach her, but when he tried to grab the girl, he went in further . . . and he couldn’t get out,’’ Ramírez told the AP. ‘‘He put her in his shirt, and I imagine he told himself, ‘I've come this far’ and decided to go with her.’’

Authorities suspended the search for Martínez and his daughter Sunday after it got too dark. Their bodies were discovered Monday morning near Maramoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, just a half-mile away from an international bridge.

Authorities stood behind yellow tape along the Rio Grande bank where the bodies of Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter were found in Matamoros, Mexico.Julia Le Duc via Associated Press/Associated Press

El Salvador’s foreign ministry said it was working to help the family, and Ávalos, who remained at a border migrant shelter after the drownings. The two bodies will be flown back to El Salvador on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.


In an interview from her Salvadoran home, his mother told the AP: ‘‘It’s tough, it’s kind of shocking, that image. But at the same time, it fills me with tenderness. I feel so many things because at no time did he let go of her.’’

She told the AP that they shared the sea-green brick home on the outskirts of the capital, San Salvador, until the young family decided to make the journey north for economic reasons. Martínez worked in a pizzeria and Ávalos as a cashier in a fast-food restaurant, Ramírez said.

‘‘You can see how he protected her, they died in each other’s arms,’’ she said of her son and the toddler.

‘‘I would say to those who are thinking of migrating, they should think it over because not everyone can live that American dream you hear about,’’ Ramírez said.

Rosa Ramirez cried when shown a photograph printed from social media of her son Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramírez, 25, granddaughter Valeria, nearly 2, and her daughter-in-law Tania Vanessa Avalos, 21.Antonio Valladares/Associated Press/Associated Press

When asked about the photograph Wednesday at the White House, President Trump told reporters, “I hate it,” according to the Associated Press.

The president went on to claim the deaths of Martínez and his daughter could have been prevented had Democrats passed legislation he asserts would stop migrants from trying to cross the border.

Martínez was probably “a wonderful guy,” the president added.

Several other public officials have also weighed in.


Pope Francis released a statement through a spokesman Wednesday, according to the AP.

“With immense sadness, the Holy Father has seen the images of the father and his baby daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande River while trying to cross the border between Mexico and the United States. The pope is profoundly saddened by their death, and is praying for them and for all migrants who have lost their lives while seeking to flee war and misery,” the statement said.

A number of Democrats vying for the party’s nomination in the 2020 presidential race also expressed outrage.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.