‘Frida Sofia’: The Mexico Earthquake Victim Who Never Was (Published 2017) (2023)


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‘Frida Sofia’: The Mexico Earthquake Victim Who Never Was (Published 2017) (1)

By Megan Specia

(Video) Who Is Frida Sofia? Mexico Shocked At The Truth Behind Girl 'Trapped' In Rubble | TIME

Her plight captured the attention of the Mexican public: a 12-year-old girl, trapped in the rubble of a collapsed elementary school as rescuers rushed to save her.

Television cameras fixed their attention on the frantic rescue operations after a devastating earthquake toppled the school on Sept. 19. Tidbits of information about the child, whom some began to identify as “Frida Sofia,” trickled out. Some reported that she was with five other children, some that she had spoken to rescuers and was wiggling her fingers, still others that she had been sent water.

But a day later, the world learned the truth: Frida Sofia did not exist. No children were believed to be alive in the building, according to Mexican Navy officials.

So how did the nation, including emergency medical workers, some officials and news outlets, get it so wrong?

How Frida Sofia’s story began.

The Enrique Rébsamen school collapsed on that Tuesday when a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit Mexico City. People rushed to pull injured children from the school, but hope soon dwindled.

By evening of the next day, the military, the police and local volunteers had been digging for more than 24 hours. That is when reports emerged of a girl who was alive inside the rubble — a story of hope when a devastated country painfully needed one.

It is unclear who first made the claim, but Televisa, the country’s largest television news network, was the first to air the report. The news was relayed by a reporter, Danielle Dithurbide, who said the information had come from leaders of the rescue teams. She was one of the only reporters allowed inside the police cordon around the building at that point.

In her report, Ms. Dithurbide said that rescuers had told her that a 12-year-old girl was trapped, and that she had been found using a thermal scanner. Rescue teams had made contact with the child, she told viewers, and her name was “Frida Sofia.” Rescuers were withholding the last name, the reporter said.

Later that evening, Ms. Dithurbide interviewed rescuers on camera who spoke of a child trapped alive in the building. In one interview, a man who identified himself only as Artemio and as an “electrician and rescuer” told her that he had heard the voice of a girl. “Yes, some very faint voices of a girl, apparently called Sofi,” he said.

(Video) Mexico Earthquake survivor "Frida Sofia" doesn't exist, adult now believed to be trapped in rubble


“I asked, ‘Your name?’” the man said. “She said, ‘Sofi, Sofi.’”

In the early hours of last Thursday, The Associated Press quoted another rescue worker with a similar story. The New York Times, among other news organizations, published this report.

“Rescue worker Raul Rodrigo Hernandez Ayala came out from the site Wednesday night and said that ‘the girl is alive, she has vital signs,’” the news agency reported, “and that five more children had been located alive. ‘There is a basement where they found children.’”

According to the report: “Helmeted workers spotted the girl buried in the debris early Wednesday and shouted to her to move her hand if she could hear. She did, and a rescue dog was sent inside to confirm she was alive. One rescuer told local media he had talked to the girl, who said her name was Frida.” (At the time, the military also had a search and rescue dog on site named Frida, which may have contributed to the confusion.)

The story grew from there as more news outlets reported the information. Soon #FridaSofia was trending on Twitter.

Officials confirmed the initial reports.

From Thursday morning, it seemed that most rescuers were working under the assumption that a girl was alive in the rubble. Footage taken by one journalist at the scene showed a rescuer shouting to a colleague and asking where he should dig, before being told to focus on an area.

Most journalists could not get close to the scene. They were relying on rescue workers, rather than officials, to relay information. Many of those workers had been on the site for hours.

Then officials began to repeat parts of the same story.

On Thursday morning, a navy officer, Adm. José Luis Vergara, told Televisa that there appeared to be a girl inside but that they could not pinpoint her location. “There’s a girl alive in there, we’re pretty sure of that, but we still don’t know how to get to her,” Admiral Vergara said.

(Video) New images of rescued survivors of the earthquake in Mexico City

Then the navy backtracked. The Naval Secretariat said in a statement that 11 children had been rescued from the school, and that the bodies of 19 children and six adults had been recovered. But no students were believed to still be trapped inside, it said. The body of a seventh adult was discovered on Sunday.

“We want to emphasize that we have no knowledge about the report that emerged with the name of a girl,” the navy’s assistant secretary, Ángel Enrique Sarmiento, said last Thursday. “We never had any knowledge about that report, and we do not believe — we are sure — it was not a reality.”

Mr. Sarmiento said that a thermal camera lowered into the rubble of the school had detected blood, but that the only person still listed as missing was a school employee. At least one body was removed from the rubble last Thursday morning, after the Frida Sofia story emerged — that of a 58-year-old woman — and it could have been her fingers that rescuers had seen.


Admiral Vergara apologized in a televised interview. “The information about the girl was spread by the marines based on the technical reports and the testimony of the rescue workers,” he said.

The confusion of collective trauma.

From the beginning, there were doubts about Frida Sofia. Some news outlets reported that her name could not be found on the school’s roll book. Last Thursday, the Ministry of Education issued an appeal for families of students who might be missing, and said it had been 12 hours since the ministry had heard from anyone.

Televisa later said its reporting had been based on interviews with rescuers and official sources, and demanded an explanation from the navy as to why it had retracted its earlier statements.

“Our goal was always to avoid rumors and the dissemination of false information,” Televisa said in a statement. “That is why we approached the Navy, which is the highest coordinating command of these rescue tasks.”

In a video message on Friday, Ms. Dithurbide, the reporter, said that the authorities had limited her access and that she had done her best to verify information with rescue workers.

Alejandro Reyes Reyes, a psychology professor at University Santo Tomás in Chile who specializes trauma caused by natural disasters, said the earthquake’s effect on the community might help explain the spread of misinformation.

(Video) Dramatic rescues in Mexico after earthquake

“As a result of our anxiety and expectations, we interpret the information provided by rescuers in a distorted way,” Mr. Reyes said in an email. “It is demonstrated that our perception and attention is selective, that is, it is restricted by our experiences and socio-affective elements, such as the desire to find a person who has disappeared from the disaster or find a loved one alive in the rubble of a collapsed building.”

Mr. Reyes said this could lead people to “transform the information” and sometimes spread misinformation.

The “Frida Sofia” story mirrors an earlier case of this kind of collective confusion.

A Spanish newspaper, El País, reported a similar case in 1985, after a devastating earthquake that hit Mexico City 32 years to the day before the most recent quake. Rescuers spent days digging for a 9-year-old boy called Monchito, only to find out that he did not exist.

At the time, a psychologist called the episode a result of “collective psychosis.”


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‘Frida Sofia’: The Mexico Earthquake Victim Who Never Was (Published 2017)? ›

Search and rescue dog-turned-national hero Frida has died. The 13-year-old canine died of an illness typical of her age, the Mexican Navy announced in a press release on Tuesday. The Labrador retriever became a social media star and symbol of hope following the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that jolted Mexico City on Sept.

Is Frida the rescue dog still alive? ›

Mexican search and rescue dog Frida dies

MEXICO CITY - Frida, a yellow Labrador retriever rescue dog that gained fame in the days following Mexico's Sept. 19, 2017, earthquake has died, Mexico's navy announced Tuesday. Officials said the 13-year-old canine died due to illnesses typical of her age.

Why are Mexican rescue dogs famous? ›

The search and rescue dogs gained prominence in 2017 after they aided rescue efforts following the earthquake in Mexico that killed hundreds of people. A yellow labrador named Frida, memorably pictured wearing boots and goggles, became a national icon after she was seen helping search for survivors.

What caused the 2017 Mexico earthquake? ›

“The 7.6 magnitude earthquake that occurred today in the Colima-Michoacan border region, Mexico just a few miles on shore is the result of the continued collision between two of Earth's large tectonic plates, the Cocos oceanic plate in the eastern Pacific Ocean and the North America plate.

Where is the Frida dog statue? ›

A life-size statue in Frida's honor was unveiled last month outside the Navy's main office in the Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacan, with Frida present in what would be one of her last public appearances. "Your life motivates us to continue giving everything to serve Mexico," the statue reads.

Did a dog save a baby buried alive? ›

A disabled dog named Ping Pong has become the pride of his village in north-east Thailand, after rescuing a baby boy who had been buried alive by his teenage mother.

What is the most famous rescue dog? ›

Rin Tin Tin – The original Rin Tin Tin was found with his mother and four siblings in a shelter in France that had been bombed in WWI.

What is the real name of the Mexican dog? ›

Sometimes known as the Mexican Hairless dog, the xoloitzcuintli (pronounced "show-low-itz-QUEENT-ly") gets its name from two words in the language of the Aztecs: Xolotl, the god of lightning and death, and itzcuintli, or dog.

What is the biggest dog rescue in the world? ›

We're just here for the puppies. Home to 1,000 strays, Costa Rica's Territorio de Zaguates is the world's largest dog sanctuary!

How long did the 2017 Mexico earthquake last? ›

The 2017 Puebla earthquake struck at 13:14 CDT (18:14 UTC) on 19 September 2017 with an estimated magnitude of Mw7.1 and strong shaking for about 20 seconds. Its epicenter was about 55 km (34 mi) south of the city of Puebla, Mexico.

How long did it take Mexico to recover from the 2017 earthquake? ›

It can be observed in Table 2 that 1184 structures (48.2%) have been fully recovered 42 months after the earthquake, considering all houses and “vecindades” recovered with public and private funds, and most school (96.0%) and medical (86.7%) buildings.

When was Mexico's last earthquake? ›

Earthquakes in Mexico since 1950
02/01/2019Chiapas; Guatemala (San Marcos)6.7
62 more rows

Is The Red dog statue Real? ›

A statue was installed in his memory in Dampier, one of the towns to which he often returned.
Red Dog (Pilbara)
Red Dog statue.
Other name(s)Bluey Dog of the Northwest
BornTally Ho 1971 Paraburdoo, Western Australia
Died21 November 1979 (aged 7–8) Karratha, Western Australia
Resting placeSecret location, Roebourne, Western Australia
5 more rows

Who gave Frida her monkey? ›

In Mexican mythology, monkeys are symbols of lust, but Kahlo portrayed them as tender and protective symbols. Kahlo's pet primates were a spider monkey named Fulang Chang (a gift from her husband) and another, Caimito de Guayabal.

What was Frida dog name? ›

Let's call them xolos for short or Señor Xolo, as Kahlo called her favorite pet. He even appears in one of the artist's most famous works: The Love Embrace of the Universe Earth Myself Diego and Señor Xolo. My first glimpse of xolos came several years ago, when I visited the Dolores Olmeida Museum in Mexico City.

What happened to the dog baby girl? ›

A dog named 'Baby Girl' went viral after being abandoned in Wisconsin. She just found her new forever home. The Wisconsin Humane Society said Baby Girl, who was left tied to a fire hydrant, found a new home the same day she was made available for adoption.

What happened to Bunny the dog? ›

Bunny is currently the subject of scientific study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego. She is part of the TheyCanTalk study, and is monitored by cameras placed in the living room of her owner Alexis Devine.

What happened to Abby the dog? ›

Photos show a 13-year-old dog named Abby that was found by cavers on Aug. 6, 2022, at a cave in Perryville, Mo. The dog's owner said she had been gone for nearly two months. She is regaining weight and healing.

Is Angel the dog still alive? ›

The actress announced on Instagram that her 14-year-old childhood dog Angel recently passed away. Actress Joey King is grieving the loss of her beloved Yorkie. In an Instagram post over the weekend, the 22-year-old announced that her childhood dog Angel passed away after nearly 15 years of love and loyalty.


1. In Mexico, a race against time to find earthquake survivors
(PBS NewsHour)
2. Inside Mexico's earthquake rescue missions
(CBS News)
3. Mexico earthquake: All kids accounted for in collapsed school
4. Girl trapped in rubble didn't exist
(WPLG Local 10)
5. Mexico Earthquake | Terrifying moments captured as quake hits | cell phone video
(CBC News)
6. Mexico school collapse sparks desperate search for "Frida" and other children after earthquake
(CBC News)
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