At least nine people were found dead early Sunday in the back of a cramped, overheated 18-wheeler in a San Antonio, Texas Walmart parking lot, according to authorities who described the immigrant-smuggling tragedy.
The driver, James Matthew Bradley Jr., 60, was arrested while dozens of others who were packed in the back of the truck were admitted to the hospital in extremely poor condition. Many of those suffered extreme dehydration and heatstroke, and are “likely going to have some irreversible brain damage,” according to officials. Two of the individuals were just 15 years old.
“We’re looking at a human-trafficking crime,” San Antonio police chief William McManus said, calling the event “a horrific tragedy.”
A man from inside the truck approached a Walmart employee and asked for water. Due to the odd and concerning nature of the man, the employee then called the police to do a welfare check on the vehicle.
When rescuers arrived on the scene, they discovered 39 people inside of the sweltering truck. However, it is estimated that more than 100 undocumented immigrants were piled into the back of the tractor-trailer throughout the journey, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting Director Thomas Homan said, referencing interviews with those who survived. Some of the survivors told authorities they were from Mexico.
It is likely that many victims got away by fleeing or hitching rides to their next destinations.
“Checking the video from the store, we found there were a number of vehicles that came in and picked up a lot of the folks that were in that trailer that survived the trip,” McManus said.
The truck didn’t have any air conditioning and the high temperature in San Antonio on Saturday was 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or 38 degrees Celsius.
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said the bodies were “very hot to the touch” and that it was evident the victims made the journey without any water.
“Unfortunately, some of them were severely overheated, and that was a refrigerated truck with no refrigeration,” Hood said. “So the inside of the truck was just austere condition that nobody was going to survive in it. So we were very fortunate that they were found.”