Texas authorities responding to a tip about a truck in San Antonio found a scene of sheer horror: the dead bodies of at least 46 people inside, and others so weak they could barely move.
“Patients that we saw were hot to the touch,” city Fire Chief Charles Hood told reporters at a press conference Monday night.
As investigators opened a human-smuggling case, three suspects were tracked down and arrested—though it was unclear if the driver was among those detained.
Hours after temperatures soared to 103 F in the city, the 18-wheeler was found next to a set of railroad tracks and a salvage yard in a secluded area called Quintana Road, according to KSAT-12.
The discovery prompted an enormous police response, with first responders walking along the tracks with thermal imaging cameras, apparently searching for more people in a wooded area nearby.
Six people, including four minors, were taken to local hospitals. None of the dead were children, officials said at the press conference.
BREAKING- We have several crews on scene where at least 20 people are reported dead inside a tractor trailer at Quintana Road & Cassin Road #KSATnews@LeighWaldman @ksatpattysantos https://t.co/nLbZhH1xaZ pic.twitter.com/xqC7mREmgh
— KSAT 12 (@ksatnews) June 28, 2022
Officials said the truck’s doors had been partially open when authorities first arrived at the scene just after 6 p.m. on Monday. One person was found dead just outside the truck. The rest were inside, with many of those still alive exhibiting symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion, in no state to escape.
“We’re not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies in there. None of us come to work imagining that. So we’re working through the behavioral health of our folks right now,” Hood said.
There was no indication that the group had had access to water, Hood explained, and the cooling unit in the truck’s box was off.
He said that authorities were, however, “hopeful” about the chances of survival for those hospitalized.
Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, said in a tweeted statement that the victims had reportedly suffocated in the trailer. He offered his condolences to them and their families, adding that a Mexican consul general was en route to the area.
Within hours of the truck’s discovery, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was using the tragedy to score political points. “These deaths are on Biden,” he tweeted. “They are a result of his deadly open border policies. They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.”
Meanwhile, the governor’s $3 billion border security effort has widely been criticized for having fallen short of expectations. He has also drawn fierce criticism for complaining about the “burden” of educating undocumented migrant children in Texas.
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Beto O’Rourke called the matter “devastating” in a tweet. “We need urgent action—dismantle human smuggling rings and replace them with expanded avenues for legal migration that reflect our values and meet our country’s needs,” he wrote.
Monday’s tragic discovery marked San Antonio’s largest case of migrant death in the city’s history, police chief William McManus said.
It is also one of the darkest episodes in illegal migration in recent months. 2021 was a year pockmarked with incidents of mass migrant death, including in December, when 55 were found dead after a tractor trailer crammed with 200 people hit a pedestrian bridge in Mexico and overturned.
Several months before that, in April, a crowded van carrying 29 migrants crashed along a remote stretch of Texas highway, killing 10. In March, 13 migrants were killed in an SUV carrying 25 when a semitrailer truck slammed into it east of San Diego.
BREAKING NEWS: A large number of migrants found dead inside a tractor trailer in Southwest Side San Antonio. We're live on the scene. https://t.co/atyueWDyhI
— News 4 San Antonio (@News4SA) June 28, 2022
Perhaps most horrifyingly similar to Sunday’s episode were the 2003 deaths of 19 men, women, and children who roasted to death in an 18-wheeler after the truck’s driver, Tyrone M. Williams, failed on turn on the unit’s refrigeration. Temperatures inside the trailer rose to 173 F.
“If I knew then what I saw that night, I would have never gone into the medical field,” one former emergency room worker said years later.
The number of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border hit a record high this year, according to federal immigration data obtained by NBC News earlier this month.
Nearly 240,000 people were stopped by Customs and Border Protection agents in May, the outlet reported. The migrants’ nationalities varied wildly, with people flooding in from Mexico, Central America, Russia, Haiti, Cuba, Turkey, India, and Nicaragua.
It was unclear what nationality or nationalities the group discovered in San Antonio were.
When asked why migrants were continuing to undertake the serious risks associated with illegal crossings, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nireberg said on Sunday night: “Our job is not to ask why; our job is to ask how we can help.”