At least 50 migrants found dead inside a truck in San Antonio, officials say
Dozens of migrants were found dead in an abandoned big rig in San Antonio on Monday in what appears to be the deadliest human smuggling case in modern U.S. history.
The bodies of at least 46 people were initially found in the tractor-trailer in the sweltering Texas heat, officials said. Sixteen others, including four children, were hospitalized, San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said.
On Tuesday morning, Mexican President Andr?s Manuel L?pez Obrador said the death toll had risen to 50. He said 22 of the dead were Mexican nationals, while seven were from Guatemala and two from Honduras. The nationalities of the remaining 19 people had yet to be confirmed.
L?pez Obrador said the Mexican government would be providing assistance to the family members of the dead.
Three people were taken into custody following the discovery, San Antonio Police Chief William P. McManus said, though he added authorities did not know if they were definitely connected to the incident. He did not expand on their identities.
The grim discovery was made early Monday evening in an undeveloped area of southwest San Antonio near railroad tracks. A person who works in the area reported hearing a cry for help and spotted at least one body, officials said.
“We’re not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies in there,” Hood said.
McManus said the survivors lacked water and air conditioning. “The patients that we saw were hot to the touch,” he said. “They were suffering from heat stroke, heat exhaustion.”
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McManus said Homeland Security Investigations had taken over the investigation into the deadly incident. The heat is likely to be a focus, with temperatures climbing to 101 on Monday, according to the National Weather Service.
The heat inside a trailer packed with people was likely to have been significantly higher than the outside temperature.
A committee of the National Association of Medical Examiners has recommended that bodies with temperatures of 105 or greater at the time of collapse be certified as heat-related deaths.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the 46 people who died had “families who were likely trying to find a better life.”
“This is nothing short of a horrific human tragedy,” Nirenberg said.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he was “heartbroken by the tragic loss of life today and am praying for those still fighting for their lives.”
“Far too many lives have been lost as individuals — including families, women, and children — take this dangerous journey,” he said in a tweet.
Noting that HSI had launched its investigation with support of the San Antonio Police Department and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, Mayorkas also took aim at human smugglers as “callous individuals who have no regard for the vulnerable people they exploit and endanger in order to make a profit.”
Monday’s tragedy comes as the number of migrants apprehended at the southern border recently reached record-breaking numbers.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, authorities encountered more than 1 million migrants along the southwest border since January. The number is over six times that of incidents recorded during the same time period in 2020 and more than double the number of cases in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic began, according to CBP data.
CBP reported at least 557 deaths on the southwest border in the 12-month period before Sept. 30, representing more than double the 247 deaths reported in the year prior, according to The Associated Press. Most were related to heat exposure.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, blamed the incident on President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.
“These deaths are on Biden,” he said in a tweet. “They are a result of his deadly open border policies.”
The White House declined to comment on Abbott’s tweet, pointing reporters instead to Mayorkas’ tweet.
Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said a consul general for the country was headed to the site of the incident and would visit hospitals to assist survivors.
He said in a tweet that at least two Guatemalan nationals had been identified among those taken to hospital. NBC News was unable to independently verify the claim.
Honduran foreign minister Enrique Reina said in a tweet that the country was investigating whether any Hondurans were among the deceased.
The registration number of the truck found in San Antonio was traced to a vehicle belonging to a man called Felipe Betancourt, based in the city of Alamo.
When contacted by NBC News, Betancourt said the vehicle appeared to have been “cloned.” He said the operators of the truck found in San Antonio appeared to have duplicated his truck’s registration numbers. Betancourt said he wanted his name cleared of the matter.
Monday’s tragedy carried echoes of an incident in 2017, when 10 migrants died in a packed truck carrying 39 people in San Antonio in the heat of summer.
Driver James Matthew Bradley Jr., 60, of Clearwater, Florida, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and transporting migrants, although his wife said he did not know people were in the trailer. In April 2018, he was sentenced to life in federal prison without parole.
In 2003, in Victoria, Texas, 19 people died in the back of a truck belonging to Tyrone Williams, who had been paid $7,500 to drive them through a Border Patrol checkpoint.
Williams was also sentenced to life behind bars over what was, until Monday, the nation’s deadliest human smuggling attempt. He was later handed additional sentences to be carried out alongside the life sentence he was already serving.