More than 50 people have died after being found in a tractor-trailer abandoned on a back road in San Antonio on Monday, in what the mayor called a "horrific human tragedy."
US officials initially said that 46 people were found dead at the scene, and 16 people — 12 adults and four minors — were transported to the hospital on Monday night. By Tuesday, that death toll increased to 51, including at least four people who died at the hospital, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said.
On Wednesday, the toll rose to 53 after two more people died.
As of Tuesday, 12 women and 39 men had died, Wolff said at a press conference.
Not all the bodies have been identified, but Mexico Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said 22 were Mexican nationals, seven were Guatemalan, and two were Honduran.
Homeland Security Investigations, which is leading the investigation, called it an "alleged human smuggling event."
Three people that officials believe are part of the smuggling conspiracy are in custody, an ICE spokesperson said.
Those rescued from the truck were "hot to the touch," San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said at a Monday press conference, and suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion.
"The plight of migrants seeking refuge is always a humanitarian crisis, but tonight we're dealing with a horrific human tragedy," Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. "I urge you all to think compassionately and pray for the deceased, the ailing, the families. And we hope that those responsible for putting these people in such inhumane conditions are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
The tractor-trailer was found by a worker in a nearby building, who heard a cry for help and found the vehicle with the doors partially open, McManus said. The worker opened the truck and "found a number of deceased individuals inside."
Temperatures in San Antonio reached the high 90s on Monday. Hood said there was no water in the vehicle and no working AC unit even though it was a refrigerated truck.
"We're not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies in there," the fire chief said. "None of us come to work imagining that."
US Customs and Border Protection has recorded a steady increase in encounters with migrants along the US–Mexico border in the past few months.
If confirmed to be a human smuggling case, it would be the deadliest such incident in San Antonio, McManus said.
Local officials criticized Texas lawmakers over their treatment of immigrants.
"It's a terrible way for us to treat immigrants. The state of Texas has done just about everything wrong that I can think of," Wolff, the county judge, said. "We dehumanize them. We make them people think they are something less than us, and they are not less than us."