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The tractor-trailer found in San Antonio where 50 people are now determined to have died.
The tractor-trailer found in San Antonio where 50 people are now determined to have died. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

At least 50 migrants dead in tractor-trailer found on the side of the road in San Antonio

It is by far the deadliest tragedy tied to human smuggling at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent memory.

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Just before 6 p.m. on Monday, June 27, 2022, a San Antonio city worker was alerted by cries of help to the presence of an abandoned tractor trailer on the side of Quintana Road on the Southwest outskirts of the city. It’s a rural stretch of road with small trees and dry grass running its length and it borders some railroad tracks.

The worker alerted authorities, who arrived shortly after to discover at least 48 dead migrants in the back of the sweltering tractor-trailer. Two more people later died in hospitals. A further 16 — 12 adults and four children — were taken to local medical facilities and are expected to survive, per San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood.

Preliminary reports of the 50 deceased included migrants from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, and all were believed to be undocumented. Hood also noted that no children were among the dead.

Still, he went into gruesome detail about the scene his firefighters discovered in a press conference on Monday night.

"We're not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies in there. None of us come to work imagining that,” he was quoted as saying by People.

Hood also said that the 60 members of the San Antonio Fire Department that responded will undergo a critical incident stress debriefing.

Temperatures recorded in San Antonio on Monday reached 103 degrees, and Hood said that the tractor-trailer was refrigerated, “but there was no visible working AC unit on that rig." There was also no sign of water.

“The patients that we saw were hot to the touch. They were suffering from heat stroke, heat exhaustion,” he said.

A federal investigation has been opened by the Department of Homeland Security, as authorities are still trying to piece together how the tractor-trailer was abandoned on the side of the road near the railroad tracks.

“I am heartbroken by the tragic loss of life today and am praying for those still fighting for their lives,” wrote DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Twitter. “Far too many lives have been lost as individuals — including families, women, and children – take this dangerous journey.”

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg called it “nothing short of a horrific human tragedy.”

“They had families and were likely trying to find a better life,” he said.

Nirenberg also went on to say that he hopes those who put the migrants through “such inhumane conditions are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Responses have also come in from Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Marcelo Ebrard, who identified the deceased as 22 Mexicans, seven Guatemalans and two Hondurans, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammettei.

“This is bitter proof that we must continue to insist on supporting people so that they do not have to leave their villages to look for a life on the other side of the border,” said AMLO.

Early on in the investigation, the San Antonio Express-News, has reported that the truck used to transport the migrants was a ‘clone’ of one owned by the Betancourt Trucking and Harvesting Company, based in Alamo, Texas. It had the same color and identifying numbers from the Federal Department of Transportation and the Texas DOT, but did not have the company’s logo.

Three people are reported to be in custody, but their relation to the truck is not clear yet.

Local TV news station KSAT is also calling the tragedy the worst in San Antonio history. South Texas is the place along the U.S.-Mexico border where the most incidents of migrant crossing and trafficking occur. 

In 2017, eight migrants were found dead in the back of a similarly sweltering truck in a Walmart parking lot. Two more died at the hospital. The driver, James Matthew Bradley Jr., was sentenced to life in prison a year later.

Earlier, in 2003, 19 migrants were found dead in the back of a truck traveling to Houston.

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