A chance sighting in an AP photo leads to a mother’s desperate search for her 8-year-old migrant daughter — and AP witnesses the reunion.

On a midnight assignment at the U.S.-Mexico border in mid-May, photographer Greg Bull, video journalist Eugene Garcia and reporter Adriana Gómez Licón met an 8-year-old Honduran migrant named Emely. Bull made a picture as Emely stood alone and barefoot after crossing into Texas with a group of strangers and turning herself into border agents. Garcia produced a heart-wrenching video story that featured young Emely sobbing in the dark.


Emely, 8, of Honduras, stands alone after turning herself in upon crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in La Joya, Texas, May 13, 2021. Her mother, Glenda Valdez, was at her home in Austin watching a Univision newscast one afternoon in May, when she recognized Emely in the AP photo on the broadcast. She knew at once that it was her daughter. Desperate, she immediately began making calls to U.S. authorities, the network and refugee agencies.

AP Photo / Gregory Bull

Just more than three weeks later, thanks to Bull’s photograph, reporter Acacia Coronado, photographer Eric Gay and video journalist Angie Wang were on hand when Emely hugged her mother for the first time in six years.

Glenda Valdez was at her Austin home when she saw Bull’s picture on a Univision broadcast, setting her on a mission to find Emely, who she did not know had been sent by her father from Honduras to the U.S. Valdez reached out to Univision, which did subsequent stories as she sought answers from authorities. Meanwhile, AP’s efforts to find Valdez stalled and Univision did not initially respond to our overtures. But thanks to daily persistence and negotiation by West Region deputy director for video Brian Skoloff, Univision ultimately offered to share exclusive access to a reunion — noting they would not even have had the mother’s emotional story without AP’s presence on the border that night.

Skoloff ultimately received a Saturday morning phone call that the reunion was on — for noon the next day at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Working with colleagues across regions and resource challenges, Skoloff mobilized Coronado and Gay in Texas, brought in Wang from Atlanta and secured airport permission for both AP and Univision that allowed the crews to capture the moment when Emely and her mother reunited. They also accompanied the family to their home that afternoon.

The result was a vivid and emotional package that scored remarkably high reader engagement and had tens of thousands of pageviews on AP News, as well as outstanding customer use in all formats. 

For spotlighting the stories that persist even when a nation’s attention to the U.S-Mexico border does not — and commitment and compassion in seeing it through — Coronado, Gay, Wang, Bull, Garcia and Gómez Licón earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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