The country watched Televisa’s live-stream through the night, wide-eyed and praying that a 12-year-old girl named Frida Sofia would be pulled from the rubble of the Rebsamen elementary school in Mexico City, destroyed during Tuesday’s earthquake.
For more than a day and a half Mexico followed the rescue effort of Frida Sofia, allegedly weakly clinging to life.
Frida Sofia reportedly knew of other children trapped in the rubble—anywhere from two to five. Frida Sofia reportedly moved her tiny hand. Frida Sofia reportedly said she was tired, though someone had given her liquids. Frida Sofia had allegedly been heard through a microphone fed through the rubble. She had reportedly waved her tiny hand.
“She moved her hand and moved Mexico’s heart,” people across the country tweeted, using the hashtag #FridaSofia.
But there was never a 12-year-old girl trapped in the rubble, alive, at this elementary school—much less alongside other tiny bodies clinging to life. Frida Sofia never existed, authorities confirmed Thursday afternoon.
After learning that Frida Sofia was perhaps actually an adult—perhaps a female janitor—the country is now outraged. The myth of Frida Sofia has died, as hundreds of people have across the region.
Though thermal sensors had detected a living being underneath the rubble, the media ran with wild speculation and comments made by rescue workers, that included reports that the young girl was moments from being rescued alive shortly past midnight on Wednesday.
Later, these reports—first shared by Televisa live on air—rang false as rescue workers who had previously believed the girl was trapped on what would have been the third floor of the building was actually stuck on what had been the second level of the school.Confusion is always high in times of natural disaster. But this case, most feel, was particularly egregious.
Tens of thousands sat glued to their televisions and computers watching the live coverage as Frida Sofia became the number one trending topic in Mexico and a symbol of hope for Mexico, a country dealing with two horrific earthquakes in less than two weeks. International news outlets also ran with the story of the little girl who would soon be saved.
As Televisa claimed the girl was just moments from being rescued, an alarm sounded—a minor earthquake in the southern state of Oaxaca caused the building to be evacuated and rescue efforts briefly halted.Then, moments later, as the rescue effort slowly resumed, portions of the demolished school began to collapse, sending plumes of dust into the air. Spectators watched in horror from the scene, and from their homes, and on streets across the country, as rescue workers took to the microphones asking for steel rods to be delivered to the site to prop up the rubble and avoid further disaster.
Late Wednesday night, after speculation that the girl had spent more than 34 hours trapped under rubble, Mexican politician Aurelio Nuño in an interview with Televisa, Mexico’s largest media company, said: “We’ve spent hours trying to contact the family and haven’t been successful.” He asked that families of the missing come to the scene. Confusion over whether the girl’s name was in fact Frida Sofia began late Wednesday night, after news broke that all of the young girls named Sofia from the school were accounted for. Tweets alleging Frida Sofia had been rescued from the rubble were immediately discredited yet spread wide and far.
But by Thursday afternoon, when the Mexican Navy confirmed that Frida Sofia was not alive, and had not ever been, the apparent unity turned from well-intentioned spectator sport to collective finger-pointing.
“We are certain that all of the children either unfortunately lost their lives or are at the hospitals or are safe at home,” said Ángel Enrique Sarmiento of the Mexican Navy on Thursday afternoon. “We just have some uncertainty about a janitorial worker who could possibly be the person who is leaving tracks and signs [of life].”
“There are signs that indicate that there may possibly still be one person alive,” he said. “There are blood tracks and photographs, as if they had dragged themselves, that indicate one person may be alive.”
But Mexicans are now outraged that they will not see this child pulled from the rubble—though there may still be dozens trapped under demolished buildings across the city.
By early Thursday morning—hours before news that Frida Sofia isn’t real broke—speculation of deception was already high, and among the top trending topics in Mexico were “Monchito” and “Timmy O’Toole.”The first is a reference to a weeklong search—and media event—for the so-called “ghost boy” of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake that killed more than 10,000 people exactly 32 years before this Tuesday’s quake. Like Frida Sofia, massive manpower went into the search for a boy whose body was never found and who may in fact never have existed. Timmy O’Toole is a reference to a 1992 episode of The Simpsons in which Bart Simpson dropped a walkie talkie down a well and pretended to be trapped, sparking a massive rescue effort that included an appearance from Sting, singing for the boy’s benefit.
Hours later, Mexicans doubts about the Frida Sofia story were confirmed.
At least 273 people in central Mexico have lost their lives as a result of the 7.1-magnitude quake, many of them children, and more than 2000 people have been injured across the region.
But for more than 24 hours, tens of thousands have been rallying behind the rescue effort hoping to pull the young “Frida Sofia” from the rubble. Mexicans are expressing utter outrage at the thought that the person possibly trapped under the rubble clinging to life is not the nonexistent child whom the country has been praying for.
But the rescue attempts, however misguided, have not been in vain. Eleven children have been rescued from the site, 19 children lost their lives, and 6 adults also died—the latest added to the tally was a woman’s corpse, pulled from the destruction early Thursday morning.
Unfortunately for the country’s sense of unity and faith, Televisa has a sticky history of manufacturing events and misinformation for a combination of ratings and the the sake of benefitting Mexico’s political class. Televisa and Frida Sofia are now the number one and two trends in Mexico as citizens express their absolute loathing of the company and explain how they feel cheated and manipulated for the sake of ratings.
“We are absolutely shocked,” Jovel Alvarez, a reporter at the scene, told Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui, who has joined Mexicans in expressing indignation at the news. “We’ve been waiting to see how Televisa will react.”
Televisa responded by demanding the Navy clarify. “During the entire Televisa broadcast from the Enrique Rebsamen school the information we’ve been sharing has been given to us or corroborated by the on-duty commander of the marine secretary.”
“When we reported there was someone alive under the rubble, when we reported that it was a girl, when we reported that there were perhaps three, when we reported they were about to rescue her, in short, each detail at each stage of the broadcast was obtained by the Navy or corroborated by this institution,” it read.
This latest event, whether due to the chaos of catastrophe or a genuine push to manufacture sympathy—as thousands in Mexico now believe—joins a long legacy of rightful mistrust toward Televisa, and already tens of thousands in Mexico are attributing the blunder to nefarious malevolence.
Although, technically, the country should be expressing some relief that Frida Sofia is neither dead nor has spent the past two days dying under rubble, they are understandably outraged that they have been duped into following a fake news story while others are still in dire need of assistance.
Hours pass and nightfall rapidly approaches once more, dimming hope that more survivors will be rescued.