“An alleged human trafficking event” was alerted by San Antonio police to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s investigation unit, which is leading the probe, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman said Monday. The incident appears to be among the most deadly in recent years for migrants near the southern border.
Three people are in police custody, though their connection to the situation is unclear, Police Chief Bill McManus said at a news conference Monday night.
Authorities were alerted to the scene just before 6 pm, when a worker in a nearby building heard a cry for help, McManus said. The worker found a trailer with doors partially opened and saw people deceased inside, McManus said.
Sixteen people – 12 adults and four children – were taken to medical facilities, San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said. Three taken to Methodist Hospital Metropolitan were in stable condition, a Methodist Healthcare spokesperson said.
Those found alive were hot to the touch and suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion, Hood said, and were conscious when taken for care. There was no sign of water in the refrigerated semitractor-trailer and no visible working air conditioning unit, he said.
Victims ‘were likely trying to find a better life’
The 60 firefighters that were on the scene are being put through a critical incident stress debriefing, Hood said.
“We’re not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies in there. None of us come to work imagining that,” the fire chief said.
“It’s tragic,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Monday. “There are, that we know of, 46 individuals who are no longer with us, who had families, who were likely trying to find a better life. And we have 16 folks who are fighting for their lives in the hospital.”
Assistance to Mexican nationals would be provided, Mexico’s 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 handle the flow of migrants to the US-Mexico border, Mayorkas told CNN earlier this month. Their operation builds on previous initiatives to go after smugglers whom migrants often depend on as they make their way to the border. Homeland Security last spring also announced an effort to crack down on criminal smuggling organizations, alongside federal partners.
Migrants in recent years have faced other tragedies and challenges enduring dangerous heat and terrain while trying to cross the US-Mexico.
CNN’s Carolyn Sung, Priscilla Alvarez, Michelle Watson, Karol Suarez, Sharif Paget, Jen Deaton, Amanda Jackson and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.