MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Here's a story of wilderness, survival and a good deed from a stranger in the southern Arizona desert. On Thanksgiving Day, a Mexican bricklayer, who would cross the border illegally, came across a 9-year-old boy distraught and looking for help. His mother had driven off a cliff in their van and was trapped inside. The Mexican man, Jesus Cordova, built a campfire and waited with the boy until help came the next day. Among the first responders was Jose Estrada. He's a sheriff's deputy in Santa Cruz County, Arizona.

Mr. JOSE ESTRADA (Sheriff's Deputy, Santa Cruz County, Arizona): He tried to communicate with the kid, but there was an - you know, obvious language barrier. The kid didn't speak Spanish and he didn't speak English. So he was able to gather from the kid that they had been involved in an accident and accidents in Spanish is accidente, which is very similar.

At that point, the kid walked them back to where the vehicle was. Mr. Cordova also told me that when he approached the kid, he found out that kid was walking about, had a side view mirror in his hand, his legs were bloody from crawling out of the van and climbing 175 or more feet to the road, and was crying out of pain.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm. And they were able to get down to the van where it had crashed?

Mr. ESTRADA: He had - the kid stay on the roadway and he went down to the van to see if there was anybody there and see if he could render aid. The van was positioned in a very unstable manner that he couldn't reach the vehicle without having to lean on it and possibly causing it to continue rolling down the hill. So he got close enough to the vehicle to be able to hear a female's voice inside, moaning or complaining of either pain or in agony.

BLOCK: This was the mother who is in that van.

Mr. ESTRADA: Yes.

BLOCK: And we know that she later died.

Mr. ESTRADA: Yes.

BLOCK: What did Mr. Cordova tell you he did next in terms of deciding whether to stay with the boy or to go on his way?

Mr. ESTRADA: Well, once he determined that he couldn't reach the van, he went back up the hill to meet with the kid again. The kid was wearing a regular T-shirt, shorts and no shoes. So he told me I started out campfire and hopes that somebody would see the smoke and, you know, maybe send somebody out there to check it out. That wasn't the case.

BLOCK: Did Mr. Cordova have explained to you what made him decide to stay? He'd been walking for two days from Mexico. He was pretty close to Tucson where he was trying to find work. Why did he decide to stay?

Mr. ESTRADA: He told me that it wouldn't feel right to leave Christopher there by himself. He told me, I'm a father myself. I got kids of my own. So I asked him, did your fatherly instincts kick in. And he said, yeah, they did, because I wouldn't want the same for my kids to be found wandering alone in the wilderness and somebody just leave them there.

BLOCK: What's happened to that 9-year-old boy?

Mr. ESTRADA: The last I heard, I think he's doing fine. He suffered real minor injuries, and I was notified that he was going to be reunited with his biological father.

BLOCK: And Mr. Cordova was sent back to Mexico by the Border Patrol?

Mr. ESTRADA: Yes. The proper protocol would be to detain Mr. Cordova and return him back to Mexico.

BLOCK: Mr. Estrada, I imagine you have a lot of encounters with illegal immigrants crossing over from Mexico. Have you ever had any experience with anything like this?

Mr. ESTRADA: No. This is - 15 years of law enforcement, it's the first time.

BLOCK: When you got home and were telling your family about what had happened, what was the lesson you took from it? What did you want them to know?

Mr. ESTRADA: It's very easy to judge a book by its cover. And there's a lot of good people out there, and it doesn't matter what your race or nationality is.

BLOCK: Do you think that Mr. Cordova saved the boy's life?

Mr. ESTRADA: Yes. Yes, I do. Being the time of the year, you know, it's getting colder, who knows what would happen if the kid stays out there with no shelter, no clothes, no water, no food. That area is very desolate. There's javelinas, there's coyotes. We've even seen mountain lion. In rare occasions, we might see bears. Who knows what would happen?

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Estrada, it's good of you to talk with us. Thanks very much.

Mr. ESTRADA: Okay. No problem.

BLOCK: That's Jose Estrada, a sheriff's deputy in Santa Cruz County, Arizona. Officials there are planning a recognition ceremony for Jesus Cordova at the border perhaps as early as next Tuesday.

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