TIJUANA, Mexico — The woman running with her two daughters in front of tear gas in the widely published photo from Sunday’s confrontation at the border between some members of the caravan and US border authorities feels like crying when she looks at the image.
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Maria Meza, 39, of Honduras said she was standing by the border fence with her five children when Border Patrol agents fired at least three tear gas canisters at them.
“I felt sad, I was scared. I wanted to cry. That’s when I grabbed my daughters and ran,” Meza told BuzzFeed News. “I thought my kids were going to die with me because of the gas we inhaled.”
The photo, taken by Kim Kyung-Hoon of Reuters, shows the single mother running from the gas in the Tijuana River bed, clutching her twin daughters’ arms.
The image was used across the world to illustrate the chaotic scene at the US–Mexico border when what had been a peaceful march turned to chaos in minutes.
About 500 members of the caravan marched toward the border and were blocked by Mexican Federal Police at an overpass that leads to the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
After being stopped, the group ran through a side street and rushed across the Tijuana River’s small stream, which runs next to the walkway leading to the port of entry.
Then, after being blocked on the street in front of the Chaparral border crossing by metal barriers and another line of federal police with shields, the group walked to a train border crossing a few minutes away.
Customs and Border Protection, the agency responsible for border law enforcement, said it fired tear gas and pepper balls at the crowd after some people tried to cross into the US through an opening and threw objects at border agents, including rocks.
Meza said she didn’t try to cross and was only looking across the border with other members of the caravan when the tear gas was launched.
One of her daughters lost her sandals in the mud. She and her daughters couldn’t climb out of the concrete riverbed until a passing stranger pulled them up. Meza said one of her sons almost fainted from the tear gas, but recovered after she threw water on his face.
The kids are scared of going near the site where Border Patrol agents fired the tear gas.
“I hope God will help me enter [the US] with these kids because we’re suffering,” she said, back at Tijuana’s Benito Juárez Stadium, where the caravan’s members are being housed. “I’m a single mother who wants to provide for my children.”