News out of San Antonio, Texas, broke early Sunday morning that a mass casualty event had taken place in a Walmart parking lot, where a driver of semi asked a store employee for water, and a police investigation soon followed.
What authorities learned was that more than 100 people had been packed into a trailer with no air-conditioning or water, and that eight of them had already died.
As of this time, at least one more person has died, bringing the death toll to nine. Others are still hospitalized in critical condition. Seventeen were taken from the scene in critical condition, while 13 more had non-life-threatening injuries, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The causes of deaths that have been given are asphyxiation, heat stroke and dehydration.
Police are calling that this is a “human-trafficking crime” and “a horrific tragedy.”
KENS5 reported that the truck was carrying undocumented immigrants, who were in the trailer without air-conditioning or water and in 100-degree heat.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is involved in the investigation.
The victims “were very hot to the touch. So these people were in this trailer without any signs of any type of water,” San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said.
Federal prosecutors said James Mathew Bradley Jr., 60, from Clearwater, Fla., was taken into custody. No immediate charges were filed.
It was a Walmart employee’s encounter with the driver of the truck that caused him to notify the police for a welfare check. What police found when they got there was a dire scene that they said was treated as if a plane had gone down.
Investigators have checked store surveillance video, and it showed vehicles arriving and picking up people from the truck.
U.S. Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr. said Sunday that “ruthless human smugglers” were to blame.
“All were victims of ruthless human smugglers indifferent to the well-being of their fragile cargo,” he said. “The South Texas heat is punishing this time of year. These people were helpless in the hands of their transporters. Imagine their suffering, trapped in a stifling trailer in 100-plus degree heat.”
ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan pledged to “put an end to these practices.”
“By any standard, the horrific crime uncovered last night ranks as a stark reminder of why human smuggling networks must be pursued, caught and punished,” he said. “These networks have repeatedly shown a reckless disregard for those they smuggle.”
“So long as I lead ICE, there will be an unwavering commitment to use law enforcement assets to put an end to these practices,” he added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.