Colombian migrant stranded in Arizona desert begged 911 operator before she and her daughter died


A Colombian woman’s last seconds alive were recorded during a 911 call to a Mexico-based emergency responder before she and her 10-year-old daughter died, and her three-year-old son was rescued by the U.S. Border Patrol.

Claudia Marcela Peña, 37, and her daughter, María José Sánchez, were found dead on August 25 near the United States-Mexico border on the Cocopah Reservation outside Yuma, Arizona, after U.S. Customs and Border Protection dispatched its Air and Marine Operations Yuma Marine Brach to find the family in distress.

CBP agents found Cristian David Morales near his mother and rushed him to a hospital for treatment. Sánchez’s deceased body was located by Border Patrol agents moments later.

Peña can be heard during a heartbreaking 911 call telling the Sonora, Mexico dispatcher, ‘Please help me.’

The 911 operator subsequently asked, ‘How many people are there with you.’

The desperate mother promptly replied, ‘Two children. Please help me. I am going to faint.’

In the background, Sánchez can be heard telling her, ‘Mommy, I am hungry.’

Claudia Marcela Peña, pictured with her son Cristían David Morales, was found dead by U.S. immigration agents on August 25 near United States-Mexico border on the Cocopah Reservation outside Yuma, Arizona. The 37-year-old mother’s 11-year-old daughter, María José Sánchez, was also found dead. Morales was rushed to an Arizona-area hospital for treatment. U.S. Border Patrol transferred him to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is working to reunite him his father who lives in the U.S.

María José Sánchez, 11, carries her three-year-old Cristían David Morales through the desert on August 25. The Colombian girl and her mother, Claudia Marcela Peña, were found dead  that day by the U.S. Border Patrol near the United States-Mexico border on the Cocopah Reservation in Arizona

María José Sánchez, 11, carries her three-year-old Cristían David Morales through the desert on August 25. The Colombian girl and her mother, Claudia Marcela Peña, were found dead  that day by the U.S. Border Patrol near the United States-Mexico border on the Cocopah Reservation in Arizona

María José Sánchez, 11, tends to her brother, three-year-old Cristían David Morales, during a stop at a Mexico convenience store while on their way to the United States border with their mother, Claudia Marcela Peña

María José Sánchez, 11, tends to her brother, three-year-old Cristían David Morales, during a stop at a Mexico convenience store while on their way to the United States border with their mother, Claudia Marcela Peña

Peña attempted to calm her daughter by telling, ‘soon my love,’ before she confirmed with the operator that she had WhatsApp service on her cellphone.

The dispatcher then told her, ‘Ok, check your WhatsApp. I already sent you a message. I just finished sending you a message so that you can accept the sharing of your coordinates.’

The operator lost contact with Peña when her cellphone battery was left without power.

Her husband Víctor Morales, who lives in Florida, told Univision that he had not seen Peña since January 17, 2019, and that he had never met his son. Their only contact had been via video phone calls.

In an interview with Telemundo, he revealed that Peña decided to migrate to the United States after she had been threatened at gunpoint in Tunja, Boyacá.

Her plan was to turn herself over to the U.S. Border Patrol at the border or dial 911 and seek help if she didn’t see them patrolling the area.

U.S. Border Patrol located the migrant family in the Cocopah tribal region near the U.S.-Mexico border outside Yuma, Arizona

U.S. Border Patrol located the migrant family in the Cocopah tribal region near the U.S.-Mexico border outside Yuma, Arizona

Víctor Morales told Telemundo on Wednesday that his wife Claudia Marcela Peña decided to come to migrate to the United States after she had been previously threatened at gunpoint in Tunja, Boyacá. 'My wife's greatest desire was for my son to be with me, but she did it at a high price,' he said

Víctor Morales told Telemundo on Wednesday that his wife Claudia Marcela Peña decided to come to migrate to the United States after she had been previously threatened at gunpoint in Tunja, Boyacá. ‘My wife’s greatest desire was for my son to be with me, but she did it at a high price,’ he said

María José Sánchez, 11, and her three-year-old brother Cristían David Morales walk through an airport in Mexico

María José Sánchez, 11, and her three-year-old brother Cristían David Morales walk through an airport in Mexico

They last spoke when she got lost in the desert border region. 

‘My wife’s greatest desire was for my son to be with me, but she did it at a high price,’ Morales said as he fought back tears.

Yeni Acevedo told Tunja radio station Positiva FM that her cousin and the children traveled to Bogotá on August 19 and then took a flight to Mexico City on August 21. They then took a Tijuana-bound flight August 24 around noon and Peña called Acevedo approximately at 9pm to say they had arrived in Mexicali.

Peña reached out to her Acevedo again on August 25 around 6am to let her know that she was leaving for the United States and that she would reach out to her at a later time because she would not have any service.

Peña shared on her social media feed photos of her children playing on the desert before they got lost. 

Acevedo learned through Morales at 11am that same day that Peña and the kids were already in the U.S. On August 26, Morales called to inform her that Peña and María José had been found dead, but that Cristían David was at a medical facility. 

Claudia Marcela Peña, a Colombian national, was found dead in the Arizona with her 11-year-old daughter María José Sánchez on August 25 after they were abandoned by smugglers at the United States-Mexico border. He three-year-old  Cristían David Morales son survived and was taken to a local facility for treatment

Claudia Marcela Peña, a Colombian national, was found dead in the Arizona with her 11-year-old daughter María José Sánchez on August 25 after they were abandoned by smugglers at the United States-Mexico border. He three-year-old  Cristían David Morales son survived and was taken to a local facility for treatment

Claudia Marcela Pe¿a with her son Cristían David Morales in Mexico

Claudia Marcela Peńa with her son Cristían David Morales in Mexico

María José Sánchez, an 10-year-old migrant from Colombia, was found dead along with her 37-year-old mother, Claudia Marcela Peña, on August 27 after the pair got lost crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona

María José Sánchez, an 10-year-old migrant from Colombia, was found dead along with her 37-year-old mother, Claudia Marcela Peña, on August 27 after the pair got lost crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona

One of the last photos posted by Claudia Marcela Peña showed her children playing in the Arizona desert

One of the last photos posted by Claudia Marcela Peña showed her children playing in the Arizona desert

‘They never told her that she was going to go through a desert, she would never expose her children that way and she would have told me about that part,’ Acevedo said. ‘That is where this story is falls apart, because if she entered Mexico legally, I do not understand how they expose them like that.’  

Morales said he has been in touch with a social worker with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which has temporary custody of unaccompanied minors before they are reunited with their family members or a sponsor in the country. 

He has been instructed to find a place that will be suitable for him and his son to live in as part of the terms of their eventual reunion.  

Morales also said that he was granted permission by Peña’s brother and Sánchez’s biological father to cremate their remains before taking them back to Colombia.

‘I am going to hold a ceremony in the ocean because my (stepdaughter’s) biggest wish was to get to know the sea,’ Morales said.



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