At around 5:50 p.m. on June 27, city workers found a disabled refrigerated trailer abandoned by its driver in San Antonio, Texas. They were alerted by screams emanating from inside the trailer.
Inside was what is now known to be the worst human smuggling tragedy ever in Texas history. At this time, 46 lives have been lost and 16 others have been hospitalized due to complications of heat stroke, heat exhaustion and dysfixiation.
A horrific discovery is largest in Texas history
The trailer was abandoned on the 9600 block of Quintana Road. It is a side street known by law enforcement as a “drop-off” point for those smuggled inland after crossing the border illegally. “You can tell they just get here. We see them with backpacks or asking for food or money,” local resident Ruby Chavez told The New York Times.
When city workers opened the trailer, it was horrific. A “pile of bodies,” as described by San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood, who gave a press conference late Monday evening. “The patients that we saw were hot to the touch, they were suffering from heat stroke, heat exhaustion, no signs of water in the vehicle. They were too weak to get themselves out of the truck,” Chief Hood told reporters.
Chief Hood also said that there were a mix of males and females in the trailer. Of the 16 surviving victims, four are teenagers. Hood said. “It was a refrigerated tractor-trailer, but there was no visible working AC unit on that rig,” Chief Hood told reporters on scene. In the 100+ degree heat in South Texas, the air tight, thick insulation of the reefer trailer transformed it from a freezer into an oven.
On June 27, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) responded to a call from San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) in reference to an alleged human smuggling event involving a tractor trailer on Quintana Road near Cassin Road. Upon arrival at the scene, HSI confirmed more than 40 deceased individuals. HSI San Antonio has initiated an investigation with support of SAPD. Details will be released as they are available; the criminal investigation remains ongoing.“– Homeland Security Investigations
All hands on deck investigating this case
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said three people are in police custody in connection with the deaths, but he’s still not sure exactly how they’re connected. “It was the largest death toll due to human smuggling San Antonio has ever seen,” McManus said.
Chief McManus told reporters that police did not know where the tractor-trailer came from or the nationalities of the occupants. McManus also said that police believe not all migrants were accounted for and police tracking units were scouring the surrounding woodlands for possible additional victims.
At least 650 migrants died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a United Nations agency that monitors migration. That is the highest death toll since record-keeping began in 1998.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection estimates 557 migrants died along the border from October 2020 through September 2021. But the IOM believes both estimates are significantly lower than the true count due to the difficulty of tracking every fatality.
Local charities and religious groups are offering support. Antonio Fernandez, CEO of Catholic Charities, said the organization is working to help survivors. He said the Archbishop is devastated after hearing the news.
“We pray for the souls of the 46 people who died in such a cruel, inhuman manner this evening, and also keep in prayer the 16 survivors – 14 adults and four children – as well as their families and all of the first responders who assisted and saved lives and must now carry with them the memories of this scene of carnage. I urge all in the archdiocese to unite in solidarity, as these brothers and sisters are members of our family. We also ask the Lord for mercy and understanding in this time of trial and suffering, still remembering our beloved in Uvalde. Give us the strength Lord to do your will. Help us, O God.”– San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller
Noi Mahoney, FreightWaves’ Cross-border Market’s Expert, is also following the situation, and he has written an article with further details.
Update: Death toll rises to 50; two perish after rescue
A brief update on the situation in San Antonio. As of 2 p.m. Central Daylight Time, June 28, the death toll has risen to 50, with three individuals passing away despite receiving treatment at a local hospital. According to reports by ABC News, “Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said the death toll was at least 50, including 22 Mexican citizens, seven Guatemalan citizens and two Honduran citizens.” That information, Secretary Ebrard tells, was provided by U.S. authorities. Three unnamed persons of interest are under arrest in connection to the tragedy.