The deaths of at least nine people due to heat in an alleged immigrant smuggler’s truck parked in San Antonio are an occasion for tears, prayers, and action to end such situations, the local archbishop has said.
“There are no words to convey the sadness, despair, and yes, even anger, we feel today at learning of the completely senseless deaths of nine people who died as human smuggling or trafficking victims from heat exhaustion and suffocation in San Antonio overnight,” Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said July 23. “This is an incomprehensible tragedy.”
The San Antonio archbishop voiced prayers for the about 30 adults and children hospitalized with serious injuries due to heat.
“We pray for these victims and all victims of human smuggling and trafficking; that this monstrous form of modern slavery will come to a quick and final end,” he said. “God cries seeing this reality and many other situations such as this across our country and around the world.”
One U.S. official told the Associated Press that 17 of those rescued were being treated for injuries considered life-threatening.
The victims were found in a tractor trailer parked outside a San Antonio Walmart late Saturday or early Sunday. Someone from the truck approached a Walmart employee asking for water. The employee gave the person water and then called police. Authorities found eight people dead, and a ninth died at the hospital.
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said the victims were ““very hot to the touch.”
“So these people were in this trailer without any signs of any type of water,” he said.
James Mathew Bradley Jr., 60, of Clearwater, Florida, was taken into custody but officials would not say whether he was the alleged driver.
Initial interviews with survivors suggest more than 100 people may have been in the back of the 18-wheeler at one point, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director Thomas Homan. There were 39 in the truck when rescuers arrived, with the rest believed to have escaped or found rides to their next destination.
Homan said it was unlikely the truck was used to carry immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Mexican consul general in San Antonio said Mexican nationals were among the survivors and those who died. At least two Guatemalans were on the abandoned trailer, Guatemala’s foreign ministry said.
For Archbishop Gustavo-Siller, the deaths are a “clarion call” for everyone, including churches, law enforcement, elected officials, civic orgaizations and others to prioritize immigration issues and “truly work together in new ways which have eluded us in the past for common sense solutions.”
“No more delays! No more victims!” he said.
The Texas Catholic Conference said the bishops of Texas joined Archbishop Garcia-Siller in offering their sincerest condolences to the families of the migrants. They also prayed for healings of the survivors among those who were human smuggling or trafficking victims.
Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin stated July 24 that the US bishops are heartbroken by the news: ” I also note our continued concern and prayers for the several other individuals identified, including school-aged children, who are reported to have life-threatening injuries.”
“The loss of lives is tragic and avoidable,” added Bishop Vasquez, who chairs the US bishops’ migration committee. “We condemn this terrible human exploitation that occurred and continues to happen in our country … We together mourn for the lives lost and offer our prayers for these individuals and their families.”
In 2003, 19 immigrants locked inside a truck rig died in Victoria, Texas. It was one of the deadliest smuggling-related incidents in recent history.
Updated 13:47 MDT, July 24, to include a statement by Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin.