Mexico Earthquake: Who is Frida Sofia? Mexican Authorities Just Don't Know

Mexican authorities have apologized for issuing conflicting reports on the existence of a girl trapped under the rubble of a collapsed school in Mexico City following the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck the country on Tuesday.

News of the girl’s plight was reported by Mexican television channel Televisa, which was given special access to the site of the Enrique Rebsámen school building where rescue efforts started on Wednesday and continued through the night.

Mexican Navy Admiral Jose Luis Vergara initially said rescuers were struggling to pinpoint the girl’s exact location. "There's a girl alive in there. We're pretty sure of that, but we still don't know how to get to her," he told Televisa, as quoted by Reuters.

The story of the rescue operation captured the country’s attention and made international headlines.

The girl was initially identified as 12-year-old Frida Sofia. The name began trending on Twitter as her fate became a national concern, yet it was soon questioned because there was no student with that name enrolled at the school.

The naming question was initially thought to be the result of a misunderstanding between the rescuers and the girl. However, doubts over her existence grew when none of the girl's relatives attended the site, where a frantic rescue operation was underway. It was also unclear how the rescuers could be in touch with the girl but fail to locate her under the rubble.

09_22_Mexico_School A paramedic gestures during a search for students at the Enrique Rebsámen school after an earthquake in Mexico City on September 21. Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters

Then, a navy official announced on Thursday afternoon that all the children enrolled at the school were accounted for.

"We want to emphasize that we have no knowledge about the report that emerged with the name of a girl," Navy Under Secretary Ángel Enrique Sarmiento Beltrán told local media. "We never had any knowledge about that report, and we do not believe—we are sure—it was not a reality."

The official said that 19 children and six adults died when the school building collapsed, while 11 children were rescued. He added, however, that a camera lowered into the rubble discovered blood tracks potentially left by someone who was injured in the collapse. These may have been left by a woman who worked at the school, the only person still on the school’s missing list.

The announcement prompted anger on social media, where users said they felt betrayed by the authorities. Some wondered if Televisa hadn’t made up the story to boost its ratings. The channel's news anchor, Carlos Loret de Mola, also expressed frustration at the story's sources.

“The federal government always told us there was a girl and they were about to rescue her alive. Now they change their version. Outrageous,” he tweeted.

The Navy officials eventually offered a rare apology in a statement to the media on Thursday. Sarmiento apologized and retracted his earlier statement, saying that his denial of the girl’s existence was not entirely accurate.

“The information that prevails up to this moment does not guarantee if it is an elderly person or a girl,” he said. “However, the Mexican people must know that as long as there is the slightest possibility that there is someone alive, we will continue to search with the same determination.”  

Vergara said the Navy did not mean to mislead the public. “It was not our intention to generate false expectations. We have been sharing all the information we obtained from rescuers and technical analysis,” he said.

Rescue workers seemed convinced of the girl’s existence. On Wednesday night, Raul Rodrigo Hernandez Ayala told the Associated Press, whose reporter managed to gain access to the site despite the barricade, that “the girl is alive, she has vital signs” and that five more children had been located alive in a basement.

According to the AP, the rescuers were emotionally wedded to the story, operating on little sleep and food. “It was a confusion,” volunteer rescuer Alfredo Padilla told the news agency. “The important thing is there are signs of life, and we are working on that.”

Join the Discussion