Four suspects are facing charges in connection with what officials are calling the largest human smuggling incident to occur in San Antonio, which left 53 people dead.

On Wednesday, Homero Zamorano, Jr., 45, was arrested and charged with one count of immigrant smuggling resulting in death, according to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.

If convicted, Zamorano faces up to life in prison or the death penalty. Zamorano is set for an initial appearance Thursday before a U.S. Magistrate in San Antonio.

Christian Martinez, 28,  who was arrested Tuesday, has been charged with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal immigrants resulting in death, officials said.

Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez, 23, and Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao, 48, who were arrested Monday, each face one count of possession of a weapon by an undocumented immigrant.

A woman holds a bouquet of flowers Wednesday at a memorial marking the site where dozens of people died in a tractor-trailer.
A woman holds a bouquet of flowers Wednesday at a memorial marking the site where dozens of people died in a tractor-trailer. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

On Monday, 911 calls led San Antonio police and Homeland Security Investigations to the scene of a human smuggling event in the Southwest Side involving a tractor trailer and 64 suspected undocumented immigrants. Multiple individuals were discovered by officers inside the tractor trailer, while some were found on the ground and in nearby brush.

Officers were led to the location of Zamorano, the suspected driver of the 18-wheeler, who was found hiding in brush after allegedly trying to leave the scene, officials said. According to immigration checkpoint surveillance footage provided to Homeland agents by Laredo Sector Border Patrol, the agents confirmed Zamorano matched the individual in the footage and was wearing the same clothing.

According to court documents, after officials executed a search warrant of Zamorano’s cell phone, officials found communication with Martinez about the alleged smuggling.

Martinez had an initial appearance Wednesday in Tyler and is being transported to San Antonio for further proceedings, officials said. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison or could face the death penalty.

The registration for the tractor trailer used in the attempted smuggling was connected to a residence in San Antonio, court documents stated. SAPD officers set up surveillance on the residence and observed two males leaving in separate trucks. A search warrant was later executed at the residence where firearms were located.

After traffic stops on both trucks, the drivers were identified as D’Luna-Mendez and D’Luna-Bilbao, both citizens of Mexico. D’Luna-Bilbao was reportedly in possession of a handgun that was found in the center console of the truck he was driving. The two had initial appearances Tuesday. 

Homeland Security confirmed that 48 individuals were dead at the scene. Of those, 22 were Mexican nationals, seven Guatemalan nationals, two Honduran nationals and 17 individuals of unknown origin, but are suspected of being undocumented immigrants. Agents confirmed the undocumented status of those who had died by utilizing a mobile fingerprint device.

The 16 people who were found alive were transported to local hospitals for medical evaluation. Since then, five have died at local hospitals.

Officials are working with foreign consulate offices for proper notifications to family members of the deceased.

As of Wednesday night, The HSI and and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are investigating the case with assistance from SAPD and the Palestine Police Department.

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. A 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University, her work has been recognized by the Texas Managing Editors. She previously worked...