Haitian migrant drowning: Mother seeks answers in daughter's August death

Judith Valentin's body found on Palm Beach

MIAMI (AP) -- The mother of a young woman who drowned while being smuggled by boat to Florida wants answers to her daughter's death.

Simone Jeanty said Thursday she wants justice for her daughter and is asking local and federal officials to investigate. Judith Valentin was one of 10 people who paid to be smuggled from Haiti, through the Bahamas, to Florida on Aug. 28. She was hoping to be reunited with her fiance, her mother said. Nine people made it to shore in Palm Beach and were immediately detained by federal authorities. Valentin's body washed ashore on Palm Beach around the same time.

Jeanty arrived in South Florida Monday on a humanitarian visa to attend her daughter's funeral. She said the family has heard that some of the migrants claimed Valentin was raped and thrown overboard.

"My beautiful baby died. No one can tell me what happened to her. She was a human being...a human being," she told reporters through tears.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Nestor Yglesias said the investigation into the smuggling is ongoing but that ICE could not immediately say whether the other individuals on the boat remain in custody or are even still in the country.

Yglesias said ICE was not aware of the allegations of rape and or murder until Thursday but that they would fall under local authorities' jurisdiction in any case.

Palm Beach police spokesman Fred Hess said his department also learned of the allegations Thursday. He said the investigation remains open as the department awaits toxicology reports from the Palm Beach County medical examiner. Initial reports put accidental drowning as the cause of death.

Hess said he did not know whether police officers ever interviewed the other nine migrants regarding the circumstances surrounding Valentin's death.

"There was a definite language barrier in speaking with the people who only spoke Creole." Hess said.

About a quarter of Palm Beach County residents are foreign-born, according to the U.S. Census. The largest growing group of immigrants comes from Haiti.

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