Their deaths, after being crammed into an uncooled trailer amid scorching summer heat, expose the callousness of smuggling along the US-Mexico border
One day earlier this month, Johny Serna was brought by his mother to pray the rosary at a parish shrine to Santo Toribio Romo, the patron saint of migrants, with his uncle and his best friend. They had a long journey ahead.
The next morning, the trio departed for the US-Mexico border, where they crossed the Rio Grande, finally climbing into a crowded 18-wheeler that would take them part of the way to their ultimate destination, Chicago.
The truck turned out to be a death trap.
Serna, 18, survived the scorching heat and asphyxiating conditions as did his uncle. But 10 others died in a tragedy that exposed the perils of crossing the frontier illegally and the callous indifference of the criminals who transport migrants.
About 30 more victims were hospitalised in San Antonio, where the truck and its grim cargo were discovered in a Walmart parking lot after a supermarket employee became suspicious and called police when one of the passengers asked him for water. As many as a hundred people from Mexico and Central America had been crammed inside.
At least 11 hailed from the small Mexican state of Aguascalientes, where young men head north to make enough money to better their lot in life back home. Its a long established rite of passage for successive generations tired of scratching meagre livings from this region of dry highlands dotted with corn fields, guava groves and prickly pear cacti.
Serna hated factory work and instead laboured in construction and picked guavas. He had a single goal: buying a house. He wanted to earn more and live a little better, said his cousin, Omar Romo Serna, a pudgy 18-year-old with a thin beard.
Aguascalientes, in the geographic heart of Mexico, is considered one of the countrys more prosperous states, but even here the lure of the US is irresistible to many.
Gabriel Hernndez, the city manager in Palo Alto an hour east of Calvillo and home to seven of the trailer victims cites pay at home as the problem. He says migrants work long and hard hours in the US but dont feel exploited like they do in Mexico, where shifts in factories are long and pay might amount to $85 (65) a week.
Many migrants simply dream of buying their own homes. Walking the dusty but tidy streets of the town, Hernndez who spent nearly two decades in the US points out the larger homes with brick facades mean American money. Shabby concrete structures with corrugated metal roofs suggest no access to US funds.
Adrin Lara Vega, 27, laboured as a bricklayer but couldnt afford to move his family from a single room behind his parents home, among the chickens and pigs the Vegas raise to put food on the table. Relatives said he couldnt find work for the three weeks prior to his departure.
They didnt leave here for ambition, to get the latest model car, said Laras aunt, Rosalba Vega. He wanted to feed his family. Vega, who was injured in the trailer, was trying to reach Florida, where a cousin and other friends from Palo Alto were waiting.
Even Donald Trumps migration crackdown and the rise of anti-migrant attitudes in the US is not enough to dissuade the towns men from seeking better fortunes north of the border, said Patricia Briones, whose husband, Jos Rodrguez, perished in the truck. He didnt want to go to the United States, she said. But the economic situation is so dire here.
Rodrguez, 38, lived in the US for 20 years, working construction jobs in North Carolina. Briones joined him and they raised five children all US citizens until Rodrguez was deported in 2016.
He was determined to return: he never readjusted to life in Palo Alto and couldnt raise a family of five there.
Its sad, Briones said at her parents home as her children, aged seven to 15, played with tops and fidget spinners. Jos provided for the family. I dont work outside the home and have to raise five children.