Families Waiting to Learn Loved Ones' Fate in Deadly Crash See Extortionists Demand Ransom

In the days following a deadly crash in Mexico that killed 55 Guatemalan migrants, some families of the victims have reported being contacted by extortionists claiming to have kidnapped their relatives and demanding money for their return.

Thursday afternoon, a truck with migrants seeking to eventually reach America was reportedly speeding in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico and flipped after losing control rounding a curve, hitting a bridge and causing dozens of people to fall out of the back of the truck.

Following the crash, police have struggled to identify the victims and notify the families, which has led to other people filling that void, with some families posting requests online for anyone with information to contact them.

One family member shared with the Associated Press a screenshot of a phone number from Mexico demanding $3,000 if they wanted to see their relative again, including what reportedly looked like their relative's face digitally placed on another person's body.

Many of the families currently facing the extortion threats could already be in significant debt because of their family members paying to be smuggled to the United States, which experts estimate is a service that costs an average of $10,000, and about 300 to 500 migrants leave their homes for the trip every day.

The Guatemalans who make the risky trip to the U.S. can become important economic producers for their home country, as the money sent back home to their families amounts to a reported $11 billion per year, about 14 percent of Guatemala's gross domestic product.

Guatemala Migrants, Mexico, Truck Crash
An injured migrant woman is moved by rescue personnel from the site of an accident near Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas state, Mexico, on December 9, 2021. Mexican authorities say at least 55 people were killed and dozens more injured when the truck carrying the migrants rolled over on the highway in southern Mexico. Families are now receiving ransom notes for relatives who were on that truck. Associated Press

"We're scared," said the brother of one migrant, who though living in the United States requested anonymity out of fear. "It says there are 40 kidnapped. We don't know if my brother could be there."

The Guatemalan government made phone lines available for families of few resources, many of whom do not speak Spanish, but families say they've been told nothing official.

Guatemala sent a high-level delegation including Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo to Mexico on Friday. They met with the injured in Chiapas, and then went on to Mexico City to meet with Mexico Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard.

Guatemala's government announced three days of mourning for victims Monday.
To come up with the money for the trip, they often sell their belongings, hand over the deeds to their homes and take loans from relatives.

From January through November, nearly 15,000 Guatemalans were deported from the United States by air. During the same period, another 58,000 were deported from Mexico by land and air.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Guatemala Migrants, Mexico, Truck Crash
As many as 40 people have reported receiving ransom notes for relatives who were on board the truck carrying 200 migrants to the U.S. that crashed in Mexico. Above, body bags are placed on the side of the road after an accident in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas state, December 9, 2021. Associated Press