City officials expressed shock Monday over reports that at least 46 people were found dead inside an 18-wheeler in San Antonio near Lackland Air Force Base. Though it’s still unconfirmed, federal, state and local authorities said they believe the people killed were migrants.
Another 16 people were taken to hospitals, according to local officials Monday evening.
Many questions are still unanswered, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s federal Homeland Security Investigations arm has taken over the investigation. Three suspects are in custody, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said.
“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,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg at the press conference. “We have 16 folks who are fighting for their lives now in the 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.”
Speaking in Spanish, Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (District 4), said it was sad this happened in San Antonio, but officials are making sure those who survived are being treated with the best quality care.
The Mexican Consulate was on the scene because they were informed by police of the suffocation incident, Consul General of San Antonio Ruben Minutti said. Minutti said any Mexican nationals seeking help or information can call the Mexican Consulate at 210-872-4386.
Rocha Garcia’s comments came as San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood gave an update on the situation at 9 p.m. Behind him, Nirenberg and other officials provided information and updates to the ongoing situation.
Hood said fire officials were hopeful that the injured people who left in ambulances from the scene would survive.
“They suffered from heat exhaustion, heat stroke, the same thing any of us would get if we were out in the elements for a long period of time without any water,” Hood said. “But we’re hopeful they’re all going to survive.”
Hood added that some younger patients, which he described as “teenagers” or “young adults,” were conscious and alert, but very weak.
“None of these people were able to extricate themselves out of the truck, so they were still in there awaiting help when we arrived,” Hood said. “Meaning they were too weak in state to actually get out and help themselves.”
It is still unknown how long people were trapped in the truck on the side of the road. Hood said both men and women had died in the incident, but there are no reports of children killed at this point.
McManus told reporters that he was not confident everyone who was in the truck has been accounted for.
“We had our canines out here going through the woods so we may have to do that again tomorrow and in the light of day,” McManus said. The police chief added that he isn’t sure of the national origins of any of the migrants, where they were coming from or what their native language was.
Nirenberg said the city has been working to assist migrants who come to San Antonio seeking asylum.
“We know that there’s been increasing volumes over the last six months, 12 months related to the [Title 42] policies. Our work, again, is to provide humanitarian assistance. This is a far different situation than what we see,” Nirenberg said.
When asked what the city can do to assist those in the hospital, Nirenberg said public health officials will be providing medical aid to ensure they’re healthy.
On July 23, 2017, 10 immigrants died in a truck in San Antonio at a Walmart. Nirenberg said the same type of incident happening again was a national crisis.
“How do we solve the migration crisis in North America? I don’t know if the city has the answer to that,” he said. “Our job is to ask how we can help, so that’s what you’re seeing with the medical assistance. As far as the federal investigation goes, that’s in the hands of the feds.”
San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller said he prays for the souls lost, as well as the survivors and for law enforcement officers. He called the deaths of 46 people cruel and inhuman.
“I urge all in the archdiocese to unite in solidarity, as these brothers and sisters are members of our family. We also ask the Lord for mercy and understanding in this time of trial and suffering, still remembering our beloved in Uvalde. Give us the strength Lord to do your will. Help us O God,” García-Siller said.
Domingo García, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) blamed the deaths on a “broken immigration system.”
“It’s time for politicians in Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reforms to address these issues and avoid other tragedies,” García said. “It’s also time for the politicians in Austin to stop using immigrants as political piñatas and start treating them as people in this humanitarian crisis, not a police enforcement issue.”