SAN ANTONIO — A tractor-trailer found near Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio contained the bodies of 46 dead people, along with 16 others who have been taken to hospitals, local officials in San Antonio said on Monday evening.
The Texas Tribune is reporting “This is nothing short of a horrific human tragedy,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at a news conference near the scene.
Local officials said federal authorities were now investigating the case and that three people were in custody, but it was unclear if they were connected to the incident. A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson said Homeland Security Investigations is leading a criminal investigation with the support of San Antonio police.
The authorities said the tragedy appeared to be the deadliest illegal migrant-smuggling operation in memory. Twelve people were taken to hospitals.
Federal, state and local authorities believe that the victims were migrants. Cross-border smuggling and human trafficking have been longstanding problems along the U.S.-Mexico border, but the deaths of 46 people represent a stunning loss of life. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus described the case as the deadliest human smuggling incident he could recall in the city.
Authorities received the first call about the truck shortly before 6 p.m. from a worker in the area who had heard a cry for help and went to investigate, McManus said.