Finding Frida: The search for the Mexican schoolgirl who never was
Search for 12-year-old in the rubble of a collapsed school galvanized Mexico and captivated the world
Among the ruins of a Mexican school, a fist became a sign of hope. The raised fist was a signal to everyone to be quiet. Rescuers going through the remains of Enrique Rebsamen school were listening, hoping to hear from a girl trapped beneath the bricks and cement. A girl who, it turns out, was never there.
According to the Mexican navy, it was a 12-year-old girl, identified in local media as "Frida Sofia." Those reports said she might be surrounded by as many as five other students who attended the school in Mexico City.
Knowing children were still alive in the rubble of the collapsed school, the rescue efforts became almost frantic. All morning, grocery cart convoys of tools entered the site. Men hoisted heavy beams used to stabilize debris. Volunteers lined up to help, some travelling from neighbouring Mexican states. Other search and rescue crews come from as far away as Japan, Israel and Germany.
One of those trying to help was Alejandra Anaya, whose friend's brother and sister were killed when Tuesday's 7.1 magnitude earthquake brought their classroom down on top of them.
"It was so ugly, disgusting, difficult," she says.
Anaya doesn't have a hard hat, so she brought her bike helmet, hoping she could help dig. The search for Frida, she says, galvanized the nation.
"All of Mexico is united with us. The world is united with us for try to help," she said.
Confusion plagues rescue efforts
But early Thursday morning, there was a hint of the confusion that has plagued rescue efforts. At 3 a.m., government officials called parents to come to the area near the school and register their kids as alive or still missing. But one mother told the CBC that when they showed up, nobody was there.
Throughout Thursday morning, hopes here were high that Frida would be found. Oxygen tanks were brought in. Medical specialists were standing by.
Kristina Lemus, an ER nurse who had been on the scene since yesterday, said it was emotional to see so many people helping.
"There's so much unity between Mexicans to help these kids, that God-willing are still alive," she said.
But then, the Mexican navy changed its story. There were no more children to be found in the school, alive or dead.
There is no Frida.
No explanation for error
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Mexican navy Undersecretary Angel Enrique Sarmiento announced all children at the school had been accounted for. The person who may still be alive in the rubble is not a child, but an adult. Officials have apologized about giving out the wrong information, though haven't yet explained how the error was made.
Enrique Caraveo, 18, knew several of the dead children and joined the volunteers hoping to rescue one he knew. Now that won't happen. But, he says, he also knew some of the children who were rescued. He says people shouldn't forget about the living, the kids who did make it out.
"They have psychological problems because they saw how their fellows died, were dying," Caraveo said. "That's the worst problem."
For one of the many volunteers who'd been helping with the search for Frida since Wednesday, a telephone pole became a bed. He propped himself up and took a nap above a sewer grate.
There may be no more children to rescue. But workers say if someone is still down there, they won't stop. As long as fists are still raised, there's hope.