Death toll rises to 51 in migrant truck discovery in sweltering San Antonio heat
Heat in the region soared above 100 degrees F when "stacks of bodies" were discovered inside the refrigerated truck, which didn't have its air conditioning turned on, according to officials.
Police work the scene where dozens of people were found dead in a semitrailer in a remote area in southwestern San Antonio on Monday, June 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
June 27 (UPI) -- At least 51 people have died after "stacks of bodies" were found Monday evening inside and around a tractor-trailer abandoned on the side of a road just outside of San Antonio, authorities and officials said.
A total of 46 bodies were initially discovered, and 16 people, including four children, were found alive inside the trailer and were rushed to local hospitals suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion, city officials and authorities told reporters during a press conference. However, five of them later died of their injuries.
"The plight of migrants seeking refuge is always a humanitarian crisis but tonight we are dealing with a horrific human tragedy," San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. "We hope that those responsible for putting these people in such inhumane conditions are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
At least 22 of the victims were Mexican nationals, while seven were originally from Guatemala and two were Honduran, Roberto Velasco Álvarez, head of the North American mission for the Mexican government, wrote on Twitter.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus described the incident as the largest death toll connected to a human smuggling case in the city that he could recall.
McManus told reporters that three people were in the custody of Homeland Security Investigations, a division of the Department of Homeland Security investigating the deaths, and federal prosecutors Tuesday charged two of them - Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao and Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez - with possessing a handgun without legal residency in the country after officers stopped them outside a San Antonio home where the truck was registered. The driver of the truck was also taken into custody, though it was not clear whether any charges had been filed against him, officials said.
Authorities were called to the scene shortly before 6 p.m. Monday. A worker at a nearby business had heard a cry for help and found the trailer with its doors partially opened. Inside, the worker saw the bodies, McManus said.
Responders with the San Antonio Fire Department were the first to arrive and found at least one body outside the trailer and several inside, Fire Chief Charles Hood said.
"We're not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies in there," he said. "None of us come to work imagining that."
"It is typically hot this time of year, but the recent stretch of heat has been extreme with temperatures challenging records," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dave Houk.
There was no water inside the trailer, which was also a refrigerated truck, but the air conditioning was not turned on, he said. It was also unknown how long they had been in the trailer.
Hood said the 16 people alive were conscious but were "hot to the touch" and were "too weak" to exit the trailer on their own. No children were among the deceased, he said, adding that he was hopeful those transported to local hospitals would survive.
McManus also added that he was not confident that everyone who was in the truck had been accounted for and police canines have been searching the nearby woods for survivors.
"Human smugglers are callous individuals who have no regard for the vulnerable people they exploit and endanger in order to make a profit," he tweeted. "We will work alongside our partners to hold those responsible for this tragedy accountable and continue to take action to disrupt smuggling networks."
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, center, with San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, left, brief the media and others at the scene where they said dozens of people have been found dead and multiple others were taken to hospitals with heat-related illnesses after a semitrailer containing suspected migrants was found on Monday, June 27, 2022, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
The Mexican consulate was on the scene late Monday, Marcelo Ebrard, the country's foreign minister, said via Twitter.
Enrique Reina, the foreign minister of Honduras, tweeted that his office was investigating whether any Hondurans were among the deceased.
"They are a result of his deadly open border policies," the Republican governor tweeted from his personal account. "They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law."
Meanwhile, Beto O'Rourke, a former House representative for Texas who is running for governor, called via Twitter for "urgent action" to dismantle human smuggling rings and "replace them with expanded avenues for legal migration that reflect our values and meet our country's needs."
The incident occurred amid surging encounters with migrants attempting to illegally enter the United States at the southwest border land border
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, 239,414 encounters were recorded last month, which is substantially higher than the 178,795 tallied a year prior.
Last week, CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus warned in a statement that as the temperatures rise, human smugglers will try to exploit the vulnerable "and recklessly endanger the lives of migrants for financial gain."
"The terrain along the southwest border is extreme, the summer heat is severe and the miles of desert that migrants must hike after crossing the border are unforgiving," he said. "Our message to those who would try and gain illegal entry to the United States remains the same -- don't make the dangerous journey only to be sent back."Report a Typo