San Antonio Police Chief William McManus spoke at a news conference Monday night, explaining that someone called 911 around 5:50 p.m. after hearing cries for help and discovering the corpses.
“We have three people in custody. We don’t know if they are absolutely connected to this or not,” McManus said. “This investigation has been turned over to [Homeland Security Investigations]. It is now a federal investigation.”
McManus could not confirm how many of the deceased were illegal aliens.
Fire Chief Charles Hood further stated that 12 adults and four teenagers were found alive and taken to the hospital for treatment.
“The patients that we saw were hot to the touch. They were suffering from heat stroke, heat exhaustion,” Hood said. “No signs of water in the vehicle, it was a refrigerated tractor-trailer, but there was no visible, working AC unit on that rig.”
The fire chief added that the survivors were conscious when taken to the hospital.
Referring to the first responders who arrived on scene, Hood said they would be given “critical incident stress debriefing.”
“Again, we’re not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies in there,” Hood said. “None of us come to work imagining that, so we’re working through the behavioral health for our folks right now.”
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg described the likely circumstances of dozens of people loading up in the back of a truck during the summer.
“It’s tragic. 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,” Nirenberg said. “And we have 16 folks who are fighting for their lives in our hospital. Our focus right now is to try to bring aid to them as best we can, but this is nothing short of a horrific human tragedy.”
The mayor also commented on the City of San Antonio’s role in responding to the deaths.
“They’re going to provide medical aid and try to revive the folks and make sure that they can get healthy,” Nirenberg said. “Beyond that, again, this is a federal investigation. Related to what happens with that part of it, we’re going to have to wait for the federal teams to brief us.”
Responding to a reporter’s question about the city’s efforts against human smuggling, Nirenberg pointed out that the scope of the problem goes far beyond San Antonio.
“You’re asking how we solve the migration crisis in North America. I don’t know if the city has the answer to that. Our job is not to ask why, our job is to ask how we can help,” Nirenberg said.
Gov. Greg Abbott ascribed the tragedy to the border policies of the Biden administration.
“These deaths are on Biden,” Abbott tweeted. “They are a result of his deadly open border policies. They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.”
Meanwhile, Mike Collier, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, pinned the blame on “failed and inadequate border policies of both the federal government and the Abbott Administration.”
In an interview with The Texan earlier this month, Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City) called human smuggling “modern day slavery” and suggested it ought to be a capital offense.
“If you’re in the cartels doing human trafficking and you’re arrested in Texas, they should be eligible for capital punishment,” Slaton said.
“And I’m talking, not just the people hosting, I’m talking anybody involved … these people that go to drive these people from point A to point B and get paid $5,000 or $10,000, they’re part of the logistics operation.”
UPDATE: According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the final death toll in this case was 53 people. First responders found 48 dead on scene and an additional five victims died at the hospital.
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Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."