TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - Dora Rodriquez was only 19 years old when she crossed the border from Mexico on July 5, 1980.
She was fleeing violence from the civil war in home country of El Salvador.
As a young student, she was the target of government death squads.
“You were taken, there were no questions,” she said. “You were going to be killed.”
When three of her friends were captured and killed, she fled the country.
The first part of the trip was easy, taking buses for 2,000 miles to get to the U.S.-Mexican border near Lukeville. The area is at the edge of the Organ Pipe National Monument.
The fact it was July and the year had set numerous temperatures records was not a concern to her or the 50 others who accompanied her on the journey.
When they got to the border, they split up so as not to draw too much attention.
There were 26 in Dora's group when they crossed the border at night.
“Some of them were wearing their dresses, their gowns, high heels walking in this desert,” she said. “We didn’t know.”
They were given a gallon of water each for what they were told was a short trip where they would be picked up by a helicopter and flown to Los Angeles to be reunited with family.
But the two Mexican coyotes who were guiding them into America got lost and later abandoned them.
What they didn’t know is they were just a mile West of Highway 85 and safety.
That’s when it became apparent the kind of heat they walked into, a heat they’d never felt before, would prove to be fatal to 13 in the group.
The water they were given lasted only about two hours.
They were walking single file over rocks, into washes and some walked into cholla cactus.
They had never seen cholla before, it was dark and they began walking into them.
They began to scream when the sharp needles of the barbed cactus spines pierced their skin.
Some grabbed the spines to rip them away only to find they penetrated deep into the skin.
Blood seeped through their clothing.
“Those things were one of your worst enemies,” she said. “I was so traumatized by these things for years and years.”
By the second day, everyone had run out of water.
“They were fainting, crying, the older ones,” she said.
They began to drink their own urine.
While she was asleep, they agreed to pee in a gallon jug “and that we could drink that to survive.”
Her uncle, traveling with her, tried to get her to drink.
“He said drink orange juice and I did,” she said. “I got to the first sip and I spit it our because it was not orange juice, it was urine.”
“We were screaming for help during the daylight, but no one could hear us,” she said.
They peeled off clothing and tried to find shade.
Things only got worse for the group, and Rodriguez.
Thirteen people died at the spot where they chose to rest.
Small plywood mark the spot in the National Park. There are three pink plastic roses there too. One each for the three sisters -- 12, 14 and 16 years old -- who died those many years ago.
Rodriquez was eventually rescued by agents with border patrol.
“I woke up to the sound of helicopters and horses,” she said. “I remember waking up to the face of Border Patrol. I will remember him forever. He said ‘Don’t fall asleep, stay with me, stay with me.’”
Rodriquez said her heart hurts, because she knows the it’s never going to stop.
People will continue to die in the deserts in an effort to come to the U.S.
Four decades later, she watches others come, in caravans. She said she feels helpless.
“It’s very humbling to me because why would I tell them not to try,” she said. “I have no right to tell them not too.”