Yesenia Magali Melendrez Cardona told her father she wanted to follow in his footsteps.
He had made the trek from Guatemala to the U.S. 15 years earlier in search of a new life. In February, she left a job and her studies behind and headed north.
Chiquimulilla, the town where she had spent her 23 years, had been ravaged by the pandemic. Unemployment was rising. The population was desperate. The streets were too dangerous to walk at night.
On Tuesday, Yesenia found herself in a situation just as perilous as the one she had fled.
A maroon Ford Expedition bore a suspected smuggler and 24 people racing toward what they hoped would be safety. Yesenia and her mother, Verlyn Cardona, were wedged in the back when it drove through a breach in the fence separating Mexico from California.
It was broadsided by a semi hauling two empty trailers. It came to a stop, windshield shattered at the intersection of Highway 115 and Norrish Road.
Seventeen passengers were ejected from the SUV. When Verlyn regained consciousness in the back of the crumpled vehicle, her daughter was sprawled across her legs.
"El sueno Americano no se le cumplio," said Yesenia's father, Maynor Melendrez. She couldn't reach the American dream.
Although the car's occupants hailed from different cities and countries — from Guatemala to Mexico — they were united by the hope of a better life and the false promise, fed by rumors, that now, under a new U.S. administration, was the moment to reach for it.