If it bleeds, it leads.
Hour after excruciating hour, Mexicans were transfixed by dramatic efforts to reach a young girl thought buried in the rubble of a school destroyed by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. She reportedly wiggled her fingers, told rescuers her name and said there were others trapped near her. Rescue workers called for tubes, pipes and other tools to reach her.
News media, officials and volunteer rescuers all repeated the story of “Frida Sofia” with a sense of urgency that made it a national drama, drawing attention away from other rescue efforts across the quake-stricken city and leaving people in Mexico and abroad glued to their television sets.
But she never existed, Mexican navy officials now say.
“We want to emphasize that we have no knowledge about the report that emerged with the name of a girl,” navy Assistant Secretary Angel Enrique Sarmiento said Thursday. “We never had any knowledge about that report, and we do not believe – we are sure – it was not a reality.”
Sarmiento said a camera lowered into the rubble of the Enrique Rebsamen school showed blood tracks where an injured person apparently dragged himself or herself, and the only person it could be – the only one still listed as missing – was a school employee. But it was just blood tracks – no fingers wiggling, no voice, no name. Several dead people have been removed from the rubble, and it could have been their fingers rescuers thought they saw move.
Twitter users quickly brought out the “Fake News” tag and complained that the widespread coverage had distracted attention from real rescue efforts where victims have been pulled victims from the rubble – something that hasn’t happened at the school in at least a day.
Viewers across the country hung on the round-the-clock coverage of the drama Wednesday from the only network that was permitted to enter. The military, which ran the rescue operation, spoke directly only to the network’s reporters inside the site.
Reports about the trapped girl led to the donations of cranes, support beams and power tools at the school site – pleas for help quickly met based on the urgency of rescuing children. It was unclear if that affected other rescue operations going on simultaneously at a half dozen other sites across the city.
Despite all the technology brought to bear at the school, including thermal imaging devices, sensors, scanners and remote cameras, the mistake may have come down to a few over-enthusiastic rescuers who, one-by one, crawled into the bottom of shafts tunneled into the rubble looking for any signs of life.[…]
In retrospect, the story of “Frida Sofia,” had some suspicious points from the start.
Officials couldn’t locate any relatives of the missing girl, and the AP reported that no girl with that name attended the school. Rescuers said they were still separated from her by yards of rubble, but could somehow still hear her.