US won't answer new questions about migrant teen's death
HOUSTON — Juan de León Gutiérrez told his mother he was calling from a warehouse in Mexico, hidden by a human smuggler who had been paid to take the teenager into the United States.
"He told me he had something of a headache, perhaps because he was hungry and had not been able to sleep," said his mother, Tránsito Gutiérrez de León.
The 16-year-old died on April 30 after officials at a Texas youth detention facility noticed he was sick, becoming the third Guatemalan child to die in U.S. custody since December.
The death has heightened scrutiny of the U.S. government's ability to adequately care for the surge in migrant families and children crossing the border in recent months. The two earlier deaths — of children aged 7 and 8 — had already prompted border authorities to change practices to ensure that sick immigrants were getting the proper medical care.
Almost a week after the teenager's death, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has not said why he was first taken to the hospital and released, only to return one day later. Evelyn Stauffer, an HHS spokeswoman, declined to provide more information Wednesday.
Juan had a rare condition known as Pott's puffy tumor, according to the Nueces County medical examiner in Corpus Christi, citing information from a children's hospital in Corpus Christi, where he was in intensive care for several days before his death.
Despite the name, the condition is not the same as a cancerous tumor. The name refers to the swelling that occurs on a patient's forehead caused by an infection in the frontal bone. The condition is rare, and while usually treatable with antibiotics, it can require surgery.
Two pediatricians told The Associated Press that the condition is often caused by severe sinus infection, which can lead to bacteria building up in a person's head and spreading. An unchecked head injury can also lead to bacteria spreading. Headaches are a common symptom as well as vomiting and fever.
It's unclear when Juan first got sick. Tránsito Gutiérrez de León said this week that her son had never had any serious illnesses beyond colds or an occasional cough, which were treated "with remedies from the land, the only thing we have."
Gutiérrez said when her son called her, using the smuggler's cellphone, he told her he had "a kind of headache." She said he told her he hadn't eaten anything or had water that day. She doesn't remember what date the conversation occurred.
"The last time we talked he told me he hoped God would help us with salt or corn, or perhaps beans for us," she said.
Juan was from Camotán, one of the poorest, most arid parts of Guatemala in what's known as the dry corridor, where there has been a prolonged drought for nearly two years.
According to Guatemala's foreign ministry, the teenager entered the U.S. near El Paso on April 19 and moved to a shelter in Brownsville the next day.
An official who was not authorized to disclose information about the case said Juan was taken to Casa Padre, a facility operated by the Texas nonprofit Southwest Key that holds up to 1,400 people in a converted Walmart.
U.S. Health and Human Services said in a statement last week that the teenager became "noticeably ill" on the morning of April 21, with symptoms that included fever, chills, and a headache.