Several others are being treated at local hospitals.
SAN ANTONIO — Fifty-one 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.
South Texas officials said Monday night that 46 bodies were found inside the vehicle when authorities responded. On Tuesday, officials with Bexar County and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced the death toll had risen to 51.
Thirty-nine of the victims are men, and 12 of them women.
ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations branch is the lead agency investigating the incident.
Also on Tuesday, Baptist Hospital confirmed two people died and three are in critical condition.
San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood on Monday said 16 people found inside the truck had been taken to local hospitals, including five to Baptist Hospital, two to Texas Vista Medical Center and two to University Hospital.
Of those 16 initial medical transports, 12 are adults and four are “pediatric” patients. The ages of those who have died have not yet been reported by officials.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said three people were taken into custody, but at this time it’s unknown whether they’re “absolutely connected to this or not.”
“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.
South Texas mourns after dozens found dead in a trailer in San Antonio
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.
At least three patients were taken to a Methodist Healthcare facility in the Alamo City. As of Tuesday morning, they say those three patients are all in critical, but stable condition.
Texas Vista Medical Center was caring for a 32-year-old man and a 26-year-old woman. University Hospital is also caring for two patients; a 23-year-old woman in serious condition and an adolescent male who is in critical condition. They said, “We are heartbroken at the loss of life discovered in a tractor trailer yesterday evening, and grateful to all who responded to this horrific scene.”
KENS 5 also received an update on Tuesday that three people were taken to CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital West Over Hills. One person was taken to The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio CHIRSTUS Health; they are in their mid-teens.
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.”
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.”