SAN ANTONIO — Fifty-three people are dead of heat-related illness after they were found inside an abandoned semitruck in far southwest San Antonio Monday evening, and federal authorities have opened an investigation.
Based on the latest information, 48 bodies were found inside the vehicle when authorities responded, and 16 taken to six San Antonio-area hospitals. As of Wednesday afternoon, the death toll associated with what is now among the deadliest human-smuggling events in the U.S. had risen to 53.
As of Tuesday, July 5, the Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office has now potentially or conclusively identified all deceased victims of this incident.
As of July 4, 35 of the victims have been conclusively identified. Their ages range from 13 to 55. Of these 35 victims, 20 were citizens of Mexico, 10 were citizens of Guatemala, and five were citizens of Honduras.
In addition to the conclusive identifications, 18 potential identifications have been made.
The overall number of deceased stands at 53.
Forty of the victims are men, and 13 of them women.
Who has been arrested?
ICE's Homeland Security Investigations branch is the lead agency investigating the incident. On Wednesday evening, the Department of Justice confirmed four men are arrested and charged in connection with the event, including two Texas men charged with human-smuggling resulting in death.
The Justice Department has identified those two as Homero Zamorano Jr., 45, and Christian Martinez, 28.
According to a DOJ press release, Zamorano was detained at the scene, and his clothes matched those that the driver was seen wearing as he drove the truck through a checkpoint. He has been charged with one count of alien smuggling resulting in death, and could face life in prison or the death penalty.
Martinez was also arrested and charged with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death. The DOJ said that after searching Zamorano's cell phone, investigators discovered that Zamorano and Martinez communicated about the smuggling event. He too faces up to life in prison or the death penalty.
Meanwhile, two Mexican men residing in the country illegally were taken into custody after police found the semitruck was registered to a home on Arnold Drive in north San Antonio, according to arrest documents. Juan Claudio D'Luna-Mendez and Juan Francisco D'Luna-Bilbao were charged with being in possession of a firearm while in the country illegally, charges that could put them behind bars for up to a decade.
According to criminal complaints filed on Tuesday, police found several guns in the Arnold Drive residence while executing a search warrant. While being interviewed by Homeland Security, both men admitted to overstaying their U.S. visas. Neither, however, has been charged with smuggling, and it's unclear as of yet if they are part of the trio of detained suspects mentioned by McManus.
Who has been hospitalized?
Sixteen people found inside the truck were taken to six San Antonio hospitals; of those, at least three have died and 13 remain hospitalized, according to the Mexican Consulate on Tuesday afternoon.
“The plight of migrants seeking refuge is always a humanitarian crisis. Tonight we’re dealing with a horrific human tragedy," San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.
The nationalities and ages of the victims haven't been confirmed. If the incident is confirmed as having started as a smuggling attempt, it would be the deadliest such event in U.S. history.
Hood said those transported to hospitals appeared to be suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion, adding there were "no signs of water" or working air conditioning in the truck.
“We’re not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies in there," the fire chief added. "None of these people were able to extricate themselves out of the truck, so they were still in there awaiting help when we arrived. Too weak in state to actually get out and help themselves."
McManus, meanwhile, said he expected the effort to ensure everyone in the vehicle was accounted for to stretch into the hours and days ahead.
"We had our K-9s out here going through the woods and we may I have to do that again tomorrow in the light of day," he said.
A heavy law enforcement presence made up of more than 20 emergency vehicles was deployed to the area of Quintana Road and Cassin Drive around 6 p.m., converging at the semitruck. At least 60 firefighters responded, as well as 10 medical units.
As of Tuesday night, three patients remain at Methodist Metropolitan Hospital; two Texas Vista Medical patients remain in critical condition; one Guatemalan teen remains at the Children's Hospital; two remain hospitalized at Baptist Medical; three remain hospitalized at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa; and two remain hospitalized at University Health.
Nirenberg said that while migrants and asylum-seekers from other nations tend to pass through San Antonio en route to their next destinations, Monday night's discovery was "a far different situation than what we see."
"It's tragic," he said. "Our focus right now is to try to bring aid to them as best we can."
Guatemalan foreign affairs officials say they are working with authorities in Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras to work on identifying and assisting migrants and their families.
Telephone numbers (956)-900-2736, (956)-800-7351, and (956)-429-3413 are available through the Guatemalan Consulate in McAllen.
Congressman Joaquin Castro said Monday night he has been in contact with the secretary of Homeland Security, adding the agency is "working to alert their families, find everyone responsible for this crime and investigate exactly what happened." The FBI in San Antonio is also assisting in the investigation.
Antonio Fernandez, CEO of Catholic Charities, was at the scene and told KENS 5's Henry Ramos, "We know that a lot of people have been taken to the hospitals."
"We're just trying to collect as much information as possible and see how we can help the people who survived," Fernandez said. "I'm not really sure those people are going to need a place to sleep tonight, or what is going to happen. We're just trying to find out as much information as we can help them."
He said his organization will be ready to help provide food or clothes, "whatever they need," to the survivors.
"Right now," he added, "we're just waiting for the police to let us know exactly what we can do."
He spoke to KENS 5 again on Tuesday, describing what he saw at the hospital. "Saw two young people; a young man who had several tubes and a young woman. Archbishop was with me and we prayed for both of them. When we were leaving, the young girl, she opened her eyes and was able to communicate with us through her eyes. She told us that she was from Guatemala. It was very touching, sad, but happy to see she was alive."
Homeland Security officials said in a statement that "details will be released as they are available."