Texas migrant deaths: what happened in San Antonio, how many died in lorry tragedy, has anyone been charged?
Three people are in custody after 53 bodies were found in a lorry trailer on the outskirts of San Antonio
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At least 53 suspected migrants have been found dead, “stacked” inside an abandoned lorry trailer on the outskirts of San Antonio in Texas.
Four people have been charged in connection to the San Antonio migrant deaths, the US Justice Department announced on Wednesday (29 June).
A fire official said 16 people, including four children, were taken taken to hospitals after the lorry was found on a remote back road near the south-west Texas city.
The survivors were reportedly “hot to the touch”, and suffering from heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Authorities suspect the incident could be an instance of cross-border migrant trafficking gone wrong.
San Antonio, which sits 250km (150 miles) from the US-Mexican border, is a major transit route for people smugglers.
Human traffickers often use lorries to transport undocumented migrants once they have managed to cross into the United States.
Police chief William McManus said a city worker heard a cry for help from the abandoned truck before discovering the scene.
Emergency responders arrived at the scene at around 18:00 local time (23:00 GMT) after receiving reports of a dead body.
Up to 20 emergency vehicles were deployed to the area and at least 60 firefighters and 10 medical units responded to the scene.
San Antonio fire chief Charles 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”.
He added that the vehicle had no working air conditioning, no water inside it, and had been abandoned by its driver.
Of the 16 taken to hospitals with heat-related illnesses, 12 were adults and four were children, and the patients were hot to the touch and dehydrated, with the trailer lacking water or air-conditioning.
Mr Hood explained: “They were suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion.
“It was a refrigerated tractor-trailer, but there was no visible working AC unit on that rig.”
Who has been charged?
Four people, including alleged truck driver Homero Zamarano Jr, have been charged.
The 45-year-old is charged with one count of alien smuggling resulting in death. He is from Brownsville but is based in Pasadena, Texas.
Three others have also been charged, including Christan Martinez, 28, who was arrested on Tuesday in Palestine, Texas, with the charge of one count of conspiracy to transport undocumented migrants resulting in death, the DOJ said.
Mr Martinez also allegedly discussed the smuggling plan in a call with Mr Zamarano and Mexican nationals Juan Claudio and Juan Francisco D’Luna Mendez.
The latter two were found as their address was used to register the tractor-trailer smuggling the migrants.
If convicted, each man faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, or possibly the death penalty, the DOJ said.
What has been said?
Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrad called the suffocation of the migrants in the truck a “tragedy in Texas”, while San Antonio’s mayor Ron Nirenberg described it as “nothing short of a horrific human tragedy”.
Mr Nirenberg said: “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”.
Greg Abbott, a Texas governor, blamed the tragedy on the Biden administration, claiming “open borders” led to the horrific scene.
The Department of Homeland Security is currently investigating the incident.
Homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas expressed grief over the death of the 46 individuals on Twitter, writing: “I am heartbroken by the tragic loss of life today and am praying for those still fighting for their lives.
“Far too many lives have been lost as individuals -- including families, women, and children -- take this dangerous journey.”
The Washington Post reported the truck has U.S and Texas Department of Transportation registration numbers on the cab.
Those in the trailer were part of a presumed migrant smuggling attempt into the US and the investigation is being led by Homeland Security Investigations, Mr McManus said.
It may be the deadliest tragedy among thousands where people have died attempting to cross the border from Mexico in recent decades.