A Border Wall Horrifies One Mexican Family Searching for Their Daughter’s Remains

They’ve found more than 3,000 remains in a border area not even a mile long. But so far, they haven’t found signs of Fanny.

By Joy DiazJanuary 9, 2017 9:45 am,

Allyson Michele/Texas Standard

From the air, the Chihuahuan desert looks as though someone laid a vast piece of tan velvet on a table – forgetting to smooth out the material. The mountain ranges – near Big Bend National Park on the American side and other protected land on the Mexican side – look like pleats and wrinkles. These borderlands are hallowed ground – at least, they are to Silvia Ortiz.

“Yo digo que son más de 30 mil [desaparecidos] – muchísimos más de 30 mil en todo Mexico.”

“I believe there are more than 30,000 – many more than 30,000 people in all are missing in Mexico,” Ortiz says in Spanish.

Ortiz believes the remains of many of these people – not migrants but Desaparecidos as they’re called in Mexico – are in the desert. But 30,000 missing people is just a guess.

“Mira, el número oficial no lo tiene nadie.”

“Look, no one knows what the real numbers are,” Ortiz says.

Mexican officials admit they don’t know how many people have vanished in Mexico. And just as alarming, officials don’t know who took them. It could be drug cartels or crooked officials, but no one knows.

Silvia Ortiz is just one of those thousands of people who are missing a loved one. Ortiz is a middle school teacher. She has three children: one daughter and two sons.

“Tengo a mi hija desaparecida desde el 5 de Noviembre del 2004. Su nombre es Silvia Estefany Sanchezviesca Ortiz.”

“My daughter has been missing since Nov. 5, 2004,” she says. “Her name is Silvia Estefany Sánchezviesca Ortiz,” Ortiz says.

Ortiz calls her Fanny. In 2004 Fanny was 16. She was a basketball player who also painted. She made a detailed mural of Britney Spears on her bedroom wall. From the time she was small, Fanny wanted to be a pediatrician. She had been visiting medical schools in 2004.

Two of her cousins told Ortiz Fanny was kidnapped. One cousin belonged to Los Zetas drug cartel. The other cousin was a cop, a member of the anti-kidnapping unit. But without a body, Ortiz believes Fanny could be alive.

“A mi nadie me puede decir si la tienen prostituyéndose en Nueva York o en Los Angeles.”

“They may have trafficked her,” Ortiz says. “She may be a prostitute in New York or Los Angeles.”

Or Fanny could be in Texas – at least, that’s what the family heard at one point. They came to Texas and searched every gentleman’s club up and down the I-35 corridor. But they ran out of money and returned home empty-handed.

It was only last year that Ortiz and her family admitted there was a chance their daughter could be dead. And if she was dead, there was a chance her body was dumped in the desert near the United States-Mexico border.

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“Es el lugar ideal porque las condiciones de desierto – ayudan al exterminio.”

“[The desert] is the ideal place because conditions there can help vanish anyone’s remains,” Ortiz says.

Ortiz, her family, and other families formed a search group called VIDA. Every weekend they comb the desert. They look for anything, really, but especially they look for Fanny’s distinct backpack – it looks like a pink stuffed bunny.

They haven’t found that yet, but they’ve found many other things. A few months ago, Ortiz’s husband Óscar Sánchezviesca told Mexican reporter Arturo Salazar about grupo VIDA’s discoveries.

“Muchos, muchos miles de restos. Ya es la décima quinta vez que venimos y ahorita estamos sacando todavía de este lado.”

“We found many, many remains – thousands of them,” Sánchezviesca said. “This is our 15th search here and we are still unearthing them.”

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They’ve found more than 3,000 remains in an area not even a mile long. But so far, they haven’t found signs of Fanny.

So what if the Chihuahuan desert – a free flowing region with no clear demarcations – gets a border wall? The thought horrifies Ortiz.

“Ay, representa un hartazgo, un retroceso.”

“It feels like we would be going backward,” Ortiz says.

Up until now, she and Sánchezviesca have been moving forward, inching their way north towards the most desolate places on the border.

For Ortiz, the biggest challenge of a wall is not political, social, or environmental. The goal is to find Fanny.

She feels at some point she will literally hit a wall. And what if her daughter lies on the other side?