The quake 'survivor' who never existed

Rescue team work at the Rebsamen school in Mexico City early morning, on Sept 20, 2017.
Rescue team work at the Rebsamen school in Mexico City early morning, on Sept 20, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

MEXICO CITY • A young girl supposedly trapped in the rubble of a Mexico City school toppled by a powerful quake this week never existed, officials said, denying accounts that had gripped all of Mexico and spurred global media attention.

"We are certain that she was not real," Mr Angel Enrique Sarmiento, a top officer in the Mexican marines, said on Thursday.

Rescue efforts were still going on at the collapsed Enrique Rebsamen school brought down in Tuesday's 7.1-magnitude earthquake, with some signs that a person, possibly an adult, might be alive inside. But the drama that had hung over the operation for two days - with round-the-clock media coverage and volunteers working towards what they hoped would be a "miracle rescue" of the young girl - eased with the revelation.

Details given by officials and rescue workers had built up a narrative about the child, named as "Frida Sofia", although some elements differed, such as her age, which ranged from six to 12, and no one could locate her parents.

Workers said they had seen her hand move in the rubble. Rescuers halted their tunnelling work at times to listen for sounds of her and other potential survivors.

For many, young "Frida" was the human face of the quake disaster, which killed more than 280 people in Mexico. Rescuing such a vulnerable individual would have been a ray of hope for the country. It would also have been welcomed as a rare bit of good news at the school, where 19 children died.

Learning that "Frida" never existed was a harsh blow. Student Aracely Suarez, 23, said: "We were all giving everything we had to rescue that girl, all the children."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2017, with the headline 'The quake 'survivor' who never existed'. Print Edition | Subscribe