Members of the reportedly 7,000-strong migrant caravan making its way from Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border are grieving the loss of one of their own.
Migrants woke up Tuesday morning to headlines in local newspapers that read, “Primer Muerto” — or “first death.”
Local media covered the “first death” of the migrant caravan. Melvin Gómez fell off a truck Monday, a week shy of his 22nd birthday. He was traveling alone from Honduras. pic.twitter.com/JDux1km1CW
— Annie Correal (@anniecorreal) October 23, 2018
Twenty-one-year-old Melvin Gómez of Honduras was on his way to the United States to seek work when he fell from a truck just outside Huixtla, Mexico, becoming the first confirmed death of the migrant caravan.
Gómez joined the caravan in search of better economic opportunities. According to his parents, he had difficulty working in Honduras due to his age and where his family is from — a poor neighborhood of San Pedro Sula named Chamelecón. Melvin planned to eventually meet up with his sister in Chicago.
“That’s how it is here, there are two things that demonize someone: their age and the area they live,” Gómez’s father told El Heraldo, a local Honduran newspaper.
“My son left so he could help us. We are in the same condition as him — no jobs.”
His mother told the outlet that she had spoken to her son the day before his death and pleaded with him to return home.
“He told me, ‘I am going to continue mama, I am going to continue,” she said.
Members of the migrant group celebrated Gómez’s life Tuesday night, holding a candlelight vigil in his memory.
En señal de luto por la muerte de uno de los integrantes de la #CaravanaMigrante (Las autoridades lo identificaron como Melvin José Gómez Escobar, de Honduras) encienden velas #Mexico pic.twitter.com/NpingmNSmr
— Eduardo Martinez (@EduardomteleSUR) October 24, 2018
Gómez’s death is a reminder of just how serious this humanitarian crisis is. These individuals are not just migrants, but are refugees dropping everything to flee unlivable situations in their countries of origin. His death also comes as President Donald Trump and Republicans writ-large are spreading misinformation about the people in the caravan.
Trump tweeted Monday that “unknown Middle Easterners” are “mixed in” with the group — a claim for which he later admitted he has “no proof.”
Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy. Must change laws!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2018
Another Melvin Gómez in the caravan (no relation) told Buzzfeed News that he had no idea what Trump was referring to with this comments.
“What? Most of us come from Honduras. It’s small, we all know each other. We would know.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) meanwhile tweeted a video out last week which allegedly showed migrant women and children in the caravan receiving cash.
“Footage in Honduras giving cash 2 women & children 2 join the caravan & storm the US border @ election time,” Gaetz tweeted. “Soros? US-backed NGOs? Time to investigate the source!”
Over the weekend Gaetz doubled-down on the conspiracy theory, telling the New York Times that he suspected the cartels might be involved.
The caravan itself is mostly made up of people like Gómez seeking economic opportunity and those fleeing violence and disasters at home. Many plan to apply for asylum at the border ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, which is entirely legal.
The caravan is currently thousands of miles from the southern U.S. border. It’s unclear how large the group will be when it finally reaches its destination.