The seven-year-old Guatemalan girl who died after trekking hundreds of miles with her father before illegally entering the U.S. likely suffered from septic shock, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said.
Jakelin Caal Maquin died December 8 in a hospital in El Paso, Texas, after being brought there by helicopter. She and her father, Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz, were apprehended by U.S. Custom and Border Patrol (CBP) agents along with 161 others on December 6. When she began vomiting hours later, she was airlifted to the hospital, where she died.
Sepsis is an infection in the body that can cause septic shock, which can damage multiple organ systems and cause blood pressure to drop dramatically, leading to death.
The CBP initially said the girl “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days," but the DHS — in a far more detailed timeline of what occurred — said her father had told officials his daughter "had not been able to consume water or food for days."
The DHS said CBP agents screened all those apprehended for health issues. "The initial screening revealed no evidence of health issues," the DHS said in a statement Friday. "During the screening, the father denied that either he or his daughter were ill."
"Authorities said the denial was recorded on a federal form signed by Caal, who speaks an indigenous dialect," NBC News reported. "At this time, they were offered water and food and had access to restrooms," DHS said.
In the timeline, DHS says the large group of illegal aliens was apprehended at 9:15 p.m. by three CBP agents. They were taken to the Forward Operating Base Bounds in a remote area of New Mexico, adjacent to the Antelope Wells Port of Entry.
There, they were broken into groups for transport to the nearest Border Patrol Station in Lordsburg some 90 minutes away. After a bus took a first group of 50 there and returned, Jakelin and her father boarded the bus at 5 a.m. When they arrived at the station, Caal told authorities his daughter was not breathing. CBP emergency medical staff began administering medical care.
"At this point her temperature was 105.9 degrees," the DHS said. "Agents providing medical care revived the child twice."
"A decision was made to transport her by helicopter to a hospital (Lordsburg is more than four hours the El Paso Hospital by vehicle). A helicopter arrived at 0730 and departed at 0748. She arrived at Providence Children’s Hospital in El Paso, Texas at 0851. Border Patrol agents transported the father by vehicle to the hospital. The child received emergency room care and was transferred to the Pediatric ICU for additional care. Unfortunately, she passed away at 0035 on December 8, 2018," the DHS said.
Guatemalan Consul Tekandi Paniagua told CNN on Saturday that Jakelin's father told him that agents did everything they possibly could to help his daughter. "Caal did not speak to the media Saturday, but in a statement issued by his lawyers, he said he was 'grateful for the many first responders that tried to save young Jakelin's life in New Mexico and Texas,'" CNN reported.
But Caal has hired lawyers Enrique Morneo and Elena Esparza to handle his case. The attorneys now say that, “Jakelin had not been crossing the desert for days. Jakelin’s father took care of Jakelin — made sure she was fed and had sufficient water,” and that they “sought asylum from the Border Patrol as soon as they crossed the border.”
That contradicts what the father told DHS officials, that his daughter "had not been able to consume water or food for days."
The pair of lawyers also reportedly issued a threat to DHS, warning spokespeople for the agency to cease “further speculation about her cause of death" because making "premature and inaccurate statements undermine the integrity of the investigation.”
The DHS expressed sadness for Jakelin's death, but noted that crossing the border is highly dangerous.
"Her death is incredibly tragic. The entire DHS family offers her family their prayers and thoughts. Unfortunately, her death is not unique. Each year, the Border Patrol identifies hundreds of people who either die attempting to illegally enter the United States, are injured in the attempt, or have to be rescued by Border Patrol. This past year alone Border Patrol rescued 4,311 people in distress."
"While rarely reported, this flood of injured or sick persons encountering our Border Patrol has resulted in the Border Patrol cross-training 1300 agents as EMTs. In this case, unfortunately, we did not encounter the child sooner," the DHS said.
Read the full DHS statement below: