ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A 9-year-old boy with a massive tumor was whisked from a dangerous neighborhood in Mexico in an armored vehicle by U.S. federal agents and taken across the border for treatment in New Mexico, his family said.
The boy and his parents were snatched Thursday from the gang-infested neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez — one of the deadliest cities in the world — after members of a New Mexico Baptist church saw him near an orphanage and sought help.
The parents of the child, identified by officials only as Jose to protect his family, said the tumor on his shoulder and neck has grown so large that it affects his eyesight and could move into his heart.
With no money for medical care, the family sought treatment in Juarez and El Paso, but did not receive any help removing the tumor, which has afflicted Jose since birth.
Si Budagher, pastor of First Baptist Church of Rio Rancho, N.M., said the church members spotted the boy while doing missionary work and felt compelled to do something to help him.
“He just came up to us and offered to carry groceries,” Budagher said. “The Lord put him in front of us.”
Church members only recently resumed missionary work in the border city after suspending visits there due to the deadly violence between competing drug cartels. The violence has claimed thousands of lives.
Denise Gutierrez, a victim assistance coordinator for Homeland Security Investigations, said she felt compelled to help as soon as she saw photos of Jose.
“I refused to believe that there was nothing we could do for this boy,” she said.
Gutierrez said the boy and his parents were granted a 45-day humanitarian visa for treatment in New Mexico, and a coalition of U.S. federal agencies began working to get them into the United States.
The U.S. Border Patrol helped the family enter the country.
Asked Friday about the ride in the armored vehicle, Jose’s eyes widen before he covered his face with his hands. “I like it here,” he said.
Budagher said the church has set up a fund for private donations and is helping with the cost of the family’s stay in the U.S. The church is also seeking help from doctors to examine Jose.
It’s still unclear, however, what treatment is needed or if he’ll need to return for follow-up visits.
“We all trying to stay positive and believe that there is something we can do for this boy and his family,” said Kevin Abar, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New Mexico.
Jose said he’s not sure what he will do when the tumor is removed.
“Play soccer,” he offered. “Maybe ride a bike.”