An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson said Monday that San Antonio police have reported an “alleged human smuggling event” to the US Department of Homeland Security’s investigative unit, which is leading the investigation. The accident appears to have been among the deadliest in recent years for migrants near the southern border.
Police Chief Bill McManus said at a news conference Monday evening that three people are in police custody, although their relationship to the situation is unclear.
McManus said authorities were alerted to the scene shortly before 6 p.m., when a worker in a nearby building heard a cry for help. McManus said the operator found a trailer with its doors partially open and saw dead people inside.
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said 16 people — 12 adults and four children — were taken to medical facilities. A spokesperson for Methodist Healthcare said three were taken to the Metropolitan Hospital in stable condition.
Those found alive, Hood said, were hot to the touch, heat stroke and fatigue, and were conscious when they were taken for care. He said there was no sign of water in the refrigerated semi-trailer and no working air conditioning unit visible.
The victims were probably trying to find a better life
Hood said the 60 firefighters who were at the site were undergoing a serious accident to debrief the tension.
“We’re not supposed to open a truck and see piles of bodies in it. None of us come to work imagining that,” the fire chief said.
“It’s tragic,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Monday. “There are, as we know, 46 people who are no longer with us, who have families, who are likely to try to find a better life. And we have 16 people who are fighting for their lives in the hospital.”
The Mexican Consul General in San Antonio said on social media that assistance will be provided to Mexican citizens. At least two of the 16 survivors have been identified as Guatemalans, according to the Mexican foreign minister, citing the consul.
Mayorkas told CNN earlier this month that US officials are working to better deal with the flow of migrants to the US-Mexico border. Their operation builds on previous initiatives to go after the smugglers that migrants often rely on as they make their way to the border. The Department of Homeland Security also announced last spring an effort to crack down on criminal smuggling organizations, along with federal partners.
In recent years, immigrants have faced tragedies and other challenges, enduring heat and dangerous terrain while trying to cross the United States and Mexico.
Carolyn Song, Priscilla Alvarez, Michelle Watson, Carol Suarez, Sheriff Paget, Jane Deaton, Amanda Jackson, Steve Almassi contributed to this report.
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