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  • The San Juan Daily Star

More than 50 migrants dead after overheated truck is abandoned in Texas

Onlookers watch investigators at the scene where dozens of migrants were found dead Monday, June 27, 2022, in or near a tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas.

By James Dobbins, J. David Goodman and Daniel Victor

The death toll from a scorching-hot tractor-trailer found in the Texas sun rose to at least 51 Tuesday morning, as the authorities were working to identify the victims and searching surrounding fields for other passengers who might have jumped or fallen from the truck before it came to a stop.

The bodies of at least 46 people believed to be migrants were found Monday, in and around the abandoned tractor-trailer on the outskirts of San Antonio, officials said. At least 16 others, including children, were taken to hospitals alive but suffering from apparent heat exhaustion and dehydration. Three later died at Baptist Medical Center, a spokesperson confirmed. Where the other two victims died was not immediately clear.

The victims include 39 men and 12 women, officials in Bexar County, where San Antonio is, said in a Tuesday afternoon news conference. Officials said some of the victims could be teenagers, but their exact ages were not yet known.

Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said on Twitter on Tuesday that the dead included 22 Mexicans, seven Guatemalans and two Hondurans. Others have not yet been identified.

At least three bodies were found strewn along the roadway, with the farthest about 75 yards from the truck, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. It was possible, the official said, that those found outside had died inside the truck and fallen out when its door opened.

Officials did not identify a cause of death but suggested that extreme heat most likely contributed. The truck did not have operating air-conditioning, officials said, and the temperature reached 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in San Antonio on Monday. The city’s fire chief, Charles Hood, said the people who were transported to hospitals were “hot to the touch.”

An employee from a nearby business discovered the truck around 6 p.m. after hearing a cry for help, William McManus, chief of the San Antonio Police Department, said Monday.

Border crossings are often dangerous, with hundreds of migrants often packed into vehicles, sometimes without water, fresh air or food. Many have been killed in crashes, while others have overheated. All of the victims Monday were believed to have crossed into the United States illegally from Mexico.

In other developments:

— Three people have been taken into custody, police said, although they released few details. McManus said in an interview with The New York Times on Tuesday afternoon that the driver of the tractor-trailer had been detained while leaving the scene on foot. He said that the driver, whom he did not identify, was stopped by officers in a nearby field and was currently in federal custody.

— The Department of Homeland Security was expected to take over the investigation. Agents from Homeland Security Investigations, a unit specialized in smuggling, were collecting evidence inside the trailer Monday, officials said.

— President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico said his country’s government was ready to support the investigation into the migrant deaths. “I want to express my deepest condolences to the families of Mexican, Guatemalan and Honduran migrants who died yesterday asphyxiated in a trailer,” he said, “a tremendous misfortune.”

— Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio called the deaths “a horrific human tragedy.” Immigrants making their way to places across the United States often pass through San Antonio, as tens of thousands have done in recent months, according to immigrant advocates. “The plight of migrants seeking refuge is always a humanitarian crisis,” the mayor said.

— The deaths came as state officials are bracing for a new surge in illegal crossings. Federal officials have recorded a record number across the southern border for this point in the year, with more than 44,000 last month just in the area around Del Rio and Eagle Pass, the border closest to San Antonio, which is about 150 miles away. In May, agents apprehended a record high of more than 239,000 migrants along the entire border.

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