What is it like to lose someone?
It’s a question we dodge like wisecracking heroes under fire in an action movie – if we’re fast and witty enough, we tell ourselves, we’ll never have to know.
Most of the time, for most people, this works pretty well.
When it doesn’t, we have questions that need answers.
I responded to Eddie’s email with a list of contact information collected during my reporting – law enforcement, humanitarian volunteers, medical examiners and website listings that had formed a resource sidebar in one of my stories.
He wrote back, an email with more information and more questions, this time with photos.
I called him to make sure he knew I was a reporter – my experience with tracking people down has more to do with politicians dodging policy questions between senate hearings or over-scheduled activists who don’t check voicemails than people crossing a vast wilderness on foot.
I told him I could keep giving him contact information I came across – but no one would honestly be able to make him promises.
“You know the situation, you don’t know with who to talk or who to trust – it’s a very difficult situation,” Eddie said.
Some of his wife’s family members were uncomfortable asking anyone for help.
“They are kind of scared of contacting the officials and I am doing that work for her.”
Others had started getting phone calls from unknown numbers demanding money.
“Last week, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we got three different phone calls, one from Tucson and two from Landline, requesting money,” Eddie said. “They asked my in-laws in Spanish, ‘You are looking for a person that you’re expecting to come to United States? We have him.'”
“Did they say anything about your brother, about him specifically?” I asked.
“They want $15,000 through Western Union and another $15,000 when they give him to us. And when we said, ‘let us talk to him,’ they hung up on us,” Eddie said. “It’s very weird – I don’t think they have him, they’re just trying to rip us off.”
I asked Eddie what they did know about Andy.
“Three weeks ago, he was trying to come through Nogales, Arizona and since then we have not heard of him,” Eddie said. “The people who were supposed to bring him, they are called coyotes. My wife’s family is trying to contact these people and each one gives us a different story, you know? One said that he was separated, one said he was arrested.”
The family has been trying to piece together anything they can.
“We’ve been looking and looking and we can’t find him. We don’t know were to go and what to do.”
“There are two ways I can think of to search,” I said. “One is looking for every record that might have been created and the other is looking for any person he might have met.”
We went through the list of people he’d spoken to – the Mexican consulate, immigration authorities, humanitarian organizations and finally the morgues.
“I even called the Coroner office and they don’t have him,” Eddie said. “I hope that nothing happened to him, but it doesn’t leave me any choices.”
The staff had checked the database – but there was nothing under Andy’s name.
“I didn’t know it was this bad until I started searching,” Eddie said. “How many bodies have been found, how many people have been hurt, how many families have been hurt just in Arizona.”
I asked him to call me back if there was news.
After the call, his words stayed with me.
“We are devastated right now, we don’t know what to do.”