Eight people were found dead Sunday morning in the back of a semi truck in a San Antonio parking lot, police say, and another 20 people were transported to local hospitals in critical condition where one died hours later.
Police are investigating the incident as a human trafficking case, and the driver has been taken into custody.
Police were notified when a person from the vehicle went inside the Walmart to ask for water. A Walmart employee became suspicious and called the police, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said.
Another eight people with less serious injuries were taken to the hospital for treatment, said Fire Chief Charles Hood. He said some of those in critical condition were hot to the touch and had heart rates of 130 beats per minute. Most doctors say a normal heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
The National Weather service reported the temperature was 102 degrees at 7:46 local time in San Antonio, and rescuers said the air conditioning in the vehicle was not working at the time.
The compartment where people were being transported was a refrigerator, CNN quoted Hood as saying, but there was no refrigeration. “If they would have spent another night in that environment, we would have 38 people who would not have survived,” Hood said, according to CNN.
Among the 39 passengers that were there when police arrived, at least two were juveniles, authorities said.
The origin of the semi trailer is not yet known, and the driver’s name has not yet been released.
McManus said that security video footage shows “multiple cars” picking up survivors before police arrived, and others fleeing into the woods.
He said they contacted Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and will continue to search for the people who have fled the vehicle.
Acting Director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Thomas Homan, called it a “horrific crime.”
“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,” Homan said in a statement. “These networks have repeatedly shown a reckless disregard for those they smuggle.”
From NTD Television
On July 23 at 5:15 p.m. ET, this article was updated with the most recent death toll.
Correction July 24 at 1:37 p.m ET: The Justice Department confirmed that 39 individuals were originally in the truck, not 38 as first reported.