At least nine undocumented immigrants died after being trapped inside a tractor-trailer at a Walmart parking lot in the southern Texas city of San Antonio, officials confirmed Sunday afternoon.
"We're looking at a human trafficking crime here," San Antonio police chief William McManus said. "Checking the video from the store, we found there were a number of vehicles that came in and picked up a lot of folks that were in that trailer that survived the trip."
The crime came to light when a man in the truck asked a Walmart employee for water. The employee brought water for the man and called the police.
Police were then called to the parking lot and found eight dead and 31 injured inside the trailer. A ninth victim died in the hospital and several people are still in critical condition at local hospitals.
San Antonio fire chief Charles Hood said the people were in the trailer without any type of liquid.
In the midsummer heat of Texas, where a temperature of 38 degrees centigrade scorched San Antonio on Saturday, the trailer did not have a working air conditioning system, said Hood.
"Unfortunately, some of them were severely overheated, and that was a refrigerated truck with no refrigeration," he said.
Police did not know the victims' country of origin, destination, or ages of the deceased or injured.
These kinds of horrific tragedies are occurring with shocking frequency in San Antonio, which has become a center of human smuggling and trafficking.
"Fortunately there are people who survived, but this happens all the time," McManus said.
San Antonio is a U.S. city close to the border area with Mexico. Border patrol agents have reported an increase in smuggling attempts in tractor-trailers in recent weeks, starting with 44 people from Mexico and Guatemala who were discovered after police stopped an 18-wheeler on June 19 near one of the city's international bridges.
On July 7, agents found 72 people from Mexico, Ecuador, Guatemala and El Salvador inside a locked trailer in the same part of town. The next day, they found 33 people from Mexico and Guatemala inside a trailer that had stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint. In another incident last week, border patrol agents found 16 people inside a locked trailer.