At least nine people died after being crammed in a sweltering tractor-trailer in a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio, Texas, early Sunday morning. Dozens of others were suffering from heat-related ailments in what San Antonio Police Chief William McManus called a “horrific tragedy” and a “human trafficking crime.”
McManus said police made the disturbing discovery after a Walmart employee was approached by someone from the truck who asked him for water. The employee complied with the request before calling authorities, who soon arrived on the scene.
The driver of the vehicle, whose identity has not yet been released, was taken into custody, McManus said. He added that federal officials, including those with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, were working with police to figure out the vehicle’s origin.
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said 38 people were found in the truck, which had no air-conditioning and no sign of any water. Eight people were dead when police arrived. One person died later in the hospital. Among the survivors, 20 were in “extremely critical or serious condition” and others had non-life threatening injuries, Hood said. The injured were taken to several local hospitals, some of them transported by helicopter.
When asked what the vehicle contained, Hood said it “was loaded with people,” including at least two “school-age” children.
Thomas Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told the Associated Press that there may have been more than 100 people in the truck at one point.
Many of the survivors appeared to be suffering from heatstroke and dehydration, the fire chief said, adding that “each one of them had heart rates over about 130 beats per minute” and were “very hot to the touch.”
Temperatures in San Antonio had soared to a high of 100 degrees on Saturday, according to the Weather Channel.
Surveillance footage showed that several vehicles had entered Walmart’s parking lot before police were alerted to the case and picked up “lots of folks that were in that trailer that survived the trip,” McManus said.
The police chief also said some survivors had been spotted fleeing into the nearby woods. He said police had already combed the area for them and would continue their search on Sunday. He said that if any resident in the area encounters someone from the truck, they should “call 911 right away.”