The heartbreaking story behind that viral crying toddler photo

A viral photograph captured last week in the Rio Grande Valley has been hailed as a poignant distillation of the heartache and desperation felt by the many families being separated by the Trump administration at the U.S.-Mexico border every day.

The photo, by Pulitzer Prize-winning Getty Images photographer John Moore, shows a 2-year-old child dressed in a bright pink sweater crying helplessly as she looks up at her mother. The woman’s face is unseen in the shot but, according to Moore, she was being searched by a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent at the time.

A 2-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018, in McAllen, Texas.

Photo Credit: John Moore

“[The mother] was told to set the child down while she was searched. The little girl immediately started crying,” the photographer told NPR on Sunday of the emotional moment. “I took only a few photographs and was almost overcome with emotion myself.” 

Moments after the photo was taken, the mother and child were hurried into a van with a group of other undocumented migrants and whisked away to a processing center, Moore said. It’s unknown what became of the toddler and her mom.

Moore, who has been photographing the U.S.-Mexico border for a decade, said he’d been able to speak briefly to the mother before the pair were taken away. The woman, who said she was from Honduras, told him that they’d been traveling for “a full month and were exhausted,” Moore told Getty Image’s FOTO website last week.

The number of Honduran migrants apprehended by Border Patrol has been on the rise in recent months as Honduras ― the second-poorest country in Central America ― continues to be plagued by deadly gang violence and political instability.

Moore said many of the migrants he photographed last week were “asylum seekers from Central America, fleeing their home country due to fear of violence or even death,” according to FOTO.

“Most of these families were scared, to various degrees,” Moore told the website. “I doubt any of them had ever done anything like this before – flee their home countries with their children, traveling thousands of miles through dangerous conditions to seek political asylum in the United States, many arriving in the dead of night.” 

Having covered the U.S.-Mexico border for many years, Moore said he’s “seen a lot along the way.” But last week felt “different,” he told NPR.

“In this case, this last week, it was different because I knew that what happened after these pictures were taken was going to be something very different,” he said. “Most of us here had heard the news that the [Trump] administration had planned to separate families. And these people really had no idea about this news. And it was hard to take these pictures, knowing what was coming next.”

The Trump administration said on Friday that it had ― in a six-week period beginning April 19 ― separated almost 2,000 children from their parents or caretakers accused of crossing unlawfully into the United States. The separations are part of the administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossing. 

“As a photojournalist, it’s my role to keep going, even when it’s hard,” Moore said. “But as a father ― and I have a toddler myself ― it was very difficult to see what was happening in front of my lens and thinking what it would be like for my kids to be separated from me.” 

Click through to see more images captured by Moore in the Rio Grande Valley last week:

8 PHOTOS
John Moore's photographs at the Rio Grande
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John Moore's photographs at the Rio Grande
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers, including a Honduran girl, 2, and her mother, are taken into custody near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The group of women and children had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers, including a Honduran girl, 2, and her mother (L), are taken into custody near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The group of women and children had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A two-year-old Honduran stands with her mother after being detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained before being sent to a Border Patrol processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A U.S. Border Patrol spotlight shines on a terrified mother and son from Honduras as they are found in the dark near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and had become lost in the woods. They were then detained by Border Patrol agents and then sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A Honduran mother holds her two-year-old daughter while being detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: U.S. Border Patrol agents detain a group of Central American asylum seekers near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The group of women and children had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - FEBRUARY 23: A U.S. Border Patrol agent searches for undocumented immigrants on February 23, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. Thick brush covers the bank of the Rio Grande, which forms the border between the U.S. and Mexico(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
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  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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