Geovany Valle laid his 10-year-old daughter to rest in a town not far from where she grew up in the central region of El Salvador.
Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle died in September in Nebraska after spending months in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, but her death was not announced until last week.
The young girl’s concrete tomb is on a hill surrounded by trees, with a turquoise cross that bears her name and the date she was laid to rest in silver letters.
Her father was placing white and green paper flowers on the tomb the day CNN visited. He remembered the last time he saw his daughter alive: He was talking to her through video chat while she was in a hospital in Nebraska.
Darlyn was encountered by Border Patrol on March 1, 2018, a few miles west of Hidalgo, Texas. She complained of chest pain and three days later, was transferred to HHS custody where she remained for about seven months. Darlyn was treated for a congenital heart defect at various hospitals — including in San Antonio, Texas and Phoenix, Arizona.
HHS spokesperson Mark Weber told CNN Darlyn had surgery complications that left her in a comatose state. She was transported to a nursing facility in Phoenix and later to Children’s Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, where she died on September 29, due to fever and respiratory distress.
As Valle was on the phone with his daughter back then, he was desperate for a sign of life.
“Give me a signal, I want to know that you can hear me. I want to know that you are seeing me,” he said he told Darlyn.
“She made an effort four times and she tried to speak,” he said. “And that was it.”
‘I could have asked her to stay’
The young girl was traveling to the US to find her mom, who had migrated from El Salvador to work and provide for her three daughters.
Darlyn stayed back with her aunt, but nine years later, Darlyn — like so many Central American children who are currently flocking to the US southern border — made the journey to reunite with her mother in the US.
The girl traveled with acquaintances by car for four days from El Salvador to the border, her mother said.
Her mother, who now lives in Omaha, Nebraska, told CNN Darlyn was just a year old when she left her behind with her aunt, Jesus Valle. The two live in a humble home on a lush hill — in a town not far from the cemetery where the child was laid to rest.
“She was like a daughter to me,” Jesus Valle said. “I loved her so much.”
Surrounded by Darlyn’s clothing and toys, her aunt wonders what could have been if Darlyn had stayed in El Salvador.
“When she left I could have asked her to stay. But her mom was taking her back. And I didn’t want to keep her from her right to be with her mom,” Jesus Valle said.