At least nine people died after they were left inside a packed tractor-trailer found parked outside a Walmart in San Antonio.
On Sunday morning, it was reported that eight people died. Officials have raised the death toll to nine in what they’re describing as an immigrant-smuggling attempt gone horribly awry.
Officials initially said the new death toll was 10 victims, but they later retracted that information, saying only one died later in the hospital.
Officials had also initially said there were 38 people in the vehicle, but later revised the number to 39 when they found another person from the vehicle in a nearby woods.
There were 30 people hospitalized in total.
“We’re looking at a human-trafficking crime,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told The Associated Press, describing it as “a horrific tragedy.”
Officials were called to the Walmart parking lot after midnight on Sunday, after a person from the vehicle went into the Walmart to ask for water. A Walmart employee became suspicious and called the police, which found eight people dead inside the vehicle. A ninth victim later died at the hospital, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said.
The victims “were very hot to the touch. So these people were in this trailer without any signs of any type of water,” said San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood. “Our paramedics and firefighters found that each one of [the hospitalized] had heart rates over about 130 beats per minutes,” he said during a taped press conference posted to the San Antonio Police Department’s Facebook page.
“You’re looking at a lot of heat stroke, a lot of dehydration,” he added.
The first eight deaths are believed to have been caused by heat exposure and asphyxiation, the fire department said. Of the 30 who were taken to nearby hospital, 20 are in critical or severe condition, The New York Times reported.
According to the National Weather Service, the temperature in San Antonio on Sunday morning was 101 degrees.
There didn’t appear to be any working air conditioning in the compartment where the people were found.
The driver of the truck, James Mathew Bradley, Jr.,60, from Clearwater, Florida, is being held in connection with the incident. A criminal complaint is expected to be filed in federal court in San Antonio on Monday, ICE and the U.S. attorney’s office said.
In a statement on Sunday, ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan said the deaths are “horrific,” and highlights the threat of smuggling networks that “have repeatedly shown a reckless disregard for those they smuggle.”
“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 added.
San Antonio Police said they didn’t know all of the victims’ countries of origin, destination, or ages—but officers said the two youngest victims are 15 years old, MySa reported.
It’s unclear how long the tractor-trailer was in the parking lot or where it came from, McManus said.
Jason Runyen, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, told MySa: “Most of the heating that would occur once someone is inside of a vehicle that doesn’t have AC would occur in the first 30 minutes of them being in there.”