(CNN) — Grandma put her head in her hands and began to sob.
“She didn’t have to suffer,” Adela Aguilar said, shaking her head as she recalled the moment her granddaughter said goodbye to her last month.
Adela Ramírez had just turned 28 and made an important decision: to leave Cuyamel, a small town in northwestern Honduras, and head to the United States.
“I told him, ‘Don’t go. Here you live well. Here you can live wherever you want, working,’” Aguilar told CNN affiliate Televicentro.
Still, Aguilar said her granddaughter was convinced she would find a better life in the United States, where her mother and sisters already lived.
Now Aguilar and other family and friends are heartbroken and stunned after learning that Ramírez was among dozens of migrants found dead this week in a truck in San Antonio, Texas, Televicentro was told.
Investigators are still working to identify the victims in what a Homeland Security Investigations agent called the deadliest human smuggling incident in US history. At least 53 people have died and some victims could be under the age of 18.
Authorities have said migrants from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras are among the dead. And in communities thousands of miles away from San Antonio, devastated family members are beginning to share stories about their loved ones.
Two brothers were excited to find work in the US and send money to their mother
Karen Caballero told reporters that her children’s trip to the United States was supposed to be the beginning of a new chapter in their lives.
“We planned it together as a family, so that they could have a different life, so that they could achieve their goals and dreams,” he said. “This was the starting point.”
Authorities said his sons, Fernando José Redondo Caballero, 18, and Alejandro Miguel Andino Caballero, 23, were among the victims. Alejandro’s wife, Margie Tamara Paz Grajera, 25, also died.
Speaking to reporters outside his home in Las Vegas, Honduras, Caballero recounted how much he adored his children.
“For me, my children were always the most beautiful children in my world,” he said.
She told Telemundo that her children were excited about the trip, in the same way as when they were children waiting to go to a birthday party. They wanted to build him a house with the money they would earn working in the United States.
“Succeed and stay focused,” he told them before leaving.
The brothers’ grandfather, Miguel Ángel Lara, told CNN en Español that he felt something bad had happened. The family had lost contact with them, he said, and then learned of the tragedy in San Antonio.
“Someone told me: ‘Watch TV.’ And I looked, and I said, my guys are there.”
She sent a text message to her friend telling her that she had crossed the border
Back in Cuyamel, Adela Ramírez’s loved ones told Televicentro that they were struggling to accept her death.
“We were like sisters,” said Claudia Vallecillo, a close friend.
“I can’t believe the news,” Vallecillo said as he showed Televicentro the house where Ramírez had lived with his mother and sisters.
The balloons from Ramírez’s recent birthday celebration are still in the living room, near the motorcycle he used to ride. Sandals and high heels are lined up against the wall of her bedroom, where a stack of photos includes a picture of her 2015 graduation from the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Institute in Puerto Cortes, Honduras, majoring in Business Administration.
“Here I am, and looking at his stuff, I feel even worse,” Vallecillo said.
Ramírez’s mother and sisters had all gone to the United States in the past year, family members told Televicentro.
And Ramírez left to join them last month, Vallecillo said. The two friends kept in touch throughout their trip.
On Monday morning, Ramírez sent Vallecillo a series of text messages asking him to keep a secret.
“I’m in America now… But don’t tell anyone,” he wrote.
“Now I am going to be with my mother and my sisters,” Vallecillo says that Ramírez told him.
But Ramírez never had the opportunity to reunite with his family. Later that day, the truck was found in San Antonio.
As they mourn, Vallecillo says that Ramírez’s loved ones are waiting for officials to help transport his remains back to his hometown.
“We ask the government to help us and send us her body so we can bury her here,” he said, “to see her one last time.”
Ana Melgar, Elvin Sandoval, Marlon Sorto, and Isabel Rodríguez of CNN en Español contributed to this report.