2023 Digital Video Storytelling, Short Form, Large Newsroom winner

‘I Heard Them Screaming:’ Witness Says Migrants Were Left to Die in Mexico Fire

About the Project

On March 27, Viangly Infante Padrón, a Venezuelan migrant, was inside Mexico’s migrant detention center in Ciudad Juárez trying to secure her husband’s release when a fire broke out inside, killing 39.

This tragic event quickly became breaking news overnight, with questions around accountability, culpability, and number of deaths at the center of conversation. While those questions desperately needed to be answered and addressed, it was important to us to find someone who had been directly impacted, to locate anyone who would be able to reliably tell us what happened, particularly in the absence of any solid video or user-generated content from the detention center.

Working in tandem with one of our international correspondents, we managed to speak with Padrón and get a clear narrative of what happened, less than 48 hours after that tragic night. The timeliness of this report – in which we included exclusive, never-before-seen cell phone video from Padrón, who was able to capture the critical moments leading up to when the fire broke out – provided rare insight into a crucial (and very narrow) window of time.

This story focused on one singular person, a mother and a wife, whose image was widely circulated in the days after the fire. She is seen crying with her body up against an ambulance that reportedly had her husband inside. Our video brought that person to life as someone who was not only inside with her son at a time when she feared for their lives, but whose loved one was seriously injured as a result of the fire. The stakes were high for her in those moments leading up to the fire, and at the time of our interview, with her husband’s condition unknown as he lay inside the hospital, the stakes remained high.

Padrón’s clear account of that life-changing night was revelatory, giving our audience a deeper look beyond what was already being reported on a loop on news outlets, day in and day out. And her emotions and her despair, both so palpable during our conversation with her, ultimately reveal the human behind the story.

Judges Comments

This work amplified the most crucial voice in any breaking news story like this fire in Mexico – the first hand witnesses affected by what may end up being ruled mass murder – in a situation where telling one’s own story is exceedingly difficult.