A 28-year-old Texas man accused of orchestrating the horrific smuggling operation that killed 53 migrants this week frantically texted the driver when the truck went off the radar and later admitted to a confidential informant he had no idea the air conditioning had failed in the sweltering big-rig, the feds say.
Christian Martinez, 28, was arrested Tuesday on a trafficking charge involving death that could land him life in prison or the death penalty after migrants reportedly battled debilitating temperatures up to 150 degrees inside the truck.
Martinez’s string of texts with the semi-truck’s alleged driver, 45-year-old Homero Zamorano Jr., were detailed in a criminal complaint obtained by The Daily Beast on Friday.
The complaint says the first text came at 12:17 p.m. Monday when Martinez texted his alleged accomplice a photo of the semi-truck’s “manifest.”
Zamorano allegedly replied two minutes later: “I go to the same spot.”
After 30 minutes, the complaint says, Martinez responded by texting an address to Zamorano: 3108 Chacon Street in Laredo, Texas—an industrial area just three miles from the Mexican border. But there would be no additional replies from Zamorano.
This caused Martinez to become seemingly frantic, pestering his partner with a volley of texts that went unanswered.
The complaint says he texted a shorthand version of “where you at bro?” at 1:40 p.m.
Martinez allegedly texted three more times at 3:18 p.m., sending: “Call me bro,” ”Yes,” ”Call me bro.”
The feds say Martinez sent a final text at 6:17 p.m., again texting the initials: “Wya?”
As Martinez texted, authorities say Zamorano drove the big-rig through the Laredo checkpoint—where he was photographed by security cameras—and headed for the rural, southwest end of San Antonio. It appears the 73 migrants boarded the truck in or near Laredo on Monday and had their phones confiscated, some family members told the Associated Press.
Authorities say Zamorano, for unknown reasons, then abandoned the truck next to railroad tracks in San Antonio sometime around 6 p.m. Monday. People nearby heard the screams of survivors and called 911.
When San Antonio police responded, they made a grisly discovery: piles of bodies, hot to the touch, spread across the back of the truck and spilling out onto the road and nearby brush.
“I have too many bodies here,” said one responding officer over the radio, reported the San Antonio Express-News.
The complaint said Zamorano, who was found ”hiding” in the nearby brush, tried to disguise himself as a victim. First responders didn’t buy it, however, and took him into custody while rushing the truck’s survivors to local hospitals.
Zamorano faces the same charge and potential sentence as Martinez for his role in what’s been reported as the deadliest smuggling incident in U.S. history.
Facebook accounts for Zamorano and Martinez list the pair as friends. Martinez’s profile says he worked at Walmart, while Zamorano’s page lists him as single and from Brownsville, Texas—another city on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Also arrested in connection with the tragedy were Mexican nationals Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao and Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez, after authorities found them at an address linked to the big-rig. They were arrested on charges of possessing weapons while residing illegally in the U.S.—a charge punishable with a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Martinez, who appears to live in a modest weatherboard house in Palestine, Texas, was already being investigated by Homeland Security, the criminal complaint says. After the truck’s discovery Monday, authorities say Martinez admitted to a confidential informant prior to his arrest that he was involved and that he was unaware the truck’s AC was down. He also said Zamorano—whom he called “Homer”—tried to run away from authorities.
As for the victims, it has been confirmed that 27 Mexicans, 14 Hondurans, seven Guatemalans and two Salvadorans died, according to Francisco Garduño, head of the Mexican government’s National Migration Institute.
Families from Mexico and Central America have since taken to social media to remember their loved ones, while authorities in the U.S. are yet to release any identities themselves.
The deaths, which were followed by a car crash that killed four migrants days later in Texas, have reignited the tense debate in the U.S. over immigration at the country’s southern border.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican running for reelection, was quick to blame President Joe Biden for Monday’s tragedy.
“These deaths are on Biden,” Abbott tweeted Monday night. “They are a result of his deadly open border policies. They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.”
Elsewhere in Texas, meanwhile, immigrant organizations pointed the finger the other way, citing strict immigration laws as the reason migrants seeking a better life in America must first put their lives—and, often, their life savings—in the hands of smugglers.
“We are horrified and dismayed by the horrific and tragic loss of life last night in our community here in San Antonio,” said RAICES San Antonio, a refugee and immigrant center. “At least 50 lives were lost because of an immigration system that dehumanizes and criminalizes those who seek asylum within our borders.”