San Antonio police alerted “a suspected human trafficking event” to the US Department of Homeland Security investigative unit, which is leading the investigation, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman said Monday. . The incident appears to be among the deadliest in recent years for migrants near the southern border.
Three people detained away from the trailer site are in police custody, although their connection to the situation is unclear, Police Chief Bill McManus said at a news conference Monday night.
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 worker found a trailer with the doors partially open and saw deceased people inside, McManus said.
Forty-eight people died at the scene and two died in hospitals, the federal law enforcement official told CNN on Tuesday, noting that the number of victims is preliminary.
Sixteen people — 12 adults and four children — were taken alive and conscious to medical facilities, San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said at Monday night’s news conference.
The patients were hot to the touch and suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion, Hood said. The refrigerator semi-trailer did not have a visible working air conditioning unit, and there was no sign of water inside, he said.
“None of these people were able to get out of the truck,” Hood said. “So, they were still there, waiting for help, when we arrived… which means they were too weak, in a weakened state, to go out and help themselves.”
Among those in the truck were at least 22 Mexicans, seven Guatemalans and two Hondurans, the federal police official said.
Federal authorities are trying to figure out the origin of the truck and its route, the official said, adding that it is not clear how long the people inside the truck were dead.
The victims “were probably trying to find a better life”
All 60 firefighters who were on scene are undergoing a critical incident stress report, Hood said.
“We’re not supposed to open up a truck and see piles of bodies there. None of us come to work imagining that,” the fire chief said.
One of the bodies was outside the trailer when firefighters arrived, Hood said.
“It’s tragic,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Monday. Those who died, he said, “had families, who were probably trying to find a better life.”
Assistance will be provided to Mexican citizens, the Mexican consul general in San Antonio said on social media. At least two of the 16 survivors have been identified as Guatemalan, according to Mexico’s foreign minister, citing the consul.
US officials are working to better manage the flow of migrants toward the US-Mexico border, Mayorkas told CNN earlier this month. His operation builds on earlier efforts to go after the smugglers migrants often rely on on their way to the border. Last spring, the Department of Homeland Security also announced an effort to crack down on smuggling criminal organizations, along with federal partners.
In recent years, migrants have faced other tragedies and challenges enduring dangerous heat and terrain as they attempt to cross the US-Mexico border.
CNN’s Carolyn Sung, Michelle Watson, Karol Suarez, Sharif Paget, Jen Deaton, Amanda Jackson and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.
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