Tuesday, October 4, 2022

At least 50 migrants found dead inside a truck in San Antonio, officials say

McManus said Homeland Security Investigations had taken over the investigation into the deadly incident. The heat is likely to be a focus, with temperatures climbing to 101 Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

The heat inside the trailer packed with people was likely to have been significantly higher than the outside temperature.

A committee of the National Association of Medical Examiners has recommended that bodies with temperatures of 105 or greater at the time of collapse be certified as heat-related deaths.

J. Antonio Fernandez, CEO of Catholic Charities in San Antonio, and Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, who leads the archdiocese of San Antonio, visited two patients — a male and a female who may have been young adults — around midnight Tuesday at University Hospital .

Fernandez could not confirm their names or ages.

They were intubated and had many other tubes connected to them. The male patient could not speak but he was wearing a scapular, a Catholic religious accessory that goes around the neck, he said.

There was security posted for the female patient but not male, Fernandez noted.

He and García-Siller asked her if they could pray for her and she nodded her head, Fernandez said.

They asked if she was from Guatemala and she nodded again, he said.

“It was a nice experience to end the day that way,” Fernandez said.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the people who died had “families who were likely trying to find a better life.”

“This is nothing short of a horrific human tragedy,” he said.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said he was “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,” he said in a tweet.

Noting that Homeland Security Investigations had launched its investigation with the support of the San Antonio Police Department and US Customs and Border Protection, Mayorkas also took aim at human smugglers as “callous individuals who have no regard for the vulnerable people they exploit and endanger in order to make a profit.”

Homeland Security Investigations said in its statement that the department “continues its enforcement efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of our communities.”

“We will continue to address the serious public safety threat posed by human smuggling organizations and their reckless disregard for the health and safety of those smuggled,” the statement continued.

Monday’s tragedy comes as the number of migrants apprehended at the southern border recently reached record-breaking numbers.

According to CBP data, authorities encountered more than 1 million migrants along the southwest border since January. The number is over six times that of incidents recorded during the same time period in 2020 and more than double the number of cases in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic began, according to the data.

The agency reported at least 557 deaths on the southwest border in the 12-month period before Sept. 30, representing more than double the 247 deaths reported in the year prior, according to The Associated Press. Most were related to heat exposure.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, at Republican, blamed the incident on President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.

“These deaths are on Biden,” he said in a tweet. “They are a result of his deadly open border policies.”

The White House declined to comment on Abbott’s tweet, pointing reporters instead to Mayorkas’ tweet.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said a consul general for the country was headed to the site of the incident and would visit hospitals to assist survivors.

Honduran Foreign Minister Enrique Reina said in a tweet that the country was investigating whether any Hondurans were among the deceased.

The registration number of the truck found in San Antonio was traced to a vehicle belonging to a man named Felipe Betancourt, based in the city of Alamo.

When contacted by NBC News, Betancourt said the vehicle appeared to have been “cloned.” He said the operators of the truck found in San Antonio appeared to have duplicated his truck’s registration numbers. He said he wanted his name cleared of the matter.

Monday’s tragedy carried echoes of an incident in 2017, when 10 migrants died in a packed truck carrying 39 people in San Antonio in the heat of summer.

The driver, James Matthew Bradley Jr., 60, of Clearwater, Florida, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and transporting migrants, although his wife said he did not know people were in the trailer. In April 2018, he was sentenced to life in federal prison without parole.

In 2003, in Victoria, Texas, 19 people died in the back of a truck belonging to Tyrone Williams, who had been paid $7,500 to drive them through a Border Patrol checkpoint.

Williams was also sentenced to life behind bars over what was, until Monday, the nation’s deadliest human smuggling attempt. He was later handed additional sentences to be carried out alongside the life sentence he was already serving.

Dennis Romero reported from Los Angeles, Suzanne Gamboa from San Antonio, Chantal Da Silva from London and Rhoda Kwan from Taipei.

Gemma DiCasimirro, Anthony Cusumano, Sara Mhaidli, The Associated Press, Julia Ainsley and Marlene Lenthang contributed.

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