Just after midnight Sunday, San Antonio police got a call about a suspicious tractor-trailer in the back of a Walmart parking lot. There, they found a horror that has captured the nation's attention.
According to a federal criminal complaint released Monday, federal authorities have charged James Matthew Bradley Jr. with illegally transporting dozens of undocumented immigrants in a tractor-trailer over the weekend, resulting in 10 deaths so far. Bradley, 60, faces the death penalty or a potential life sentence if convicted of the crimes, which will be prosecuted by U.S. attorneys in the Western District of Texas.
The complaint details the incident with eerie specificity. The person who called police, a Walmart employee, told police that multiple people near the truck needed help. When an officer got to the Walmart, he found people lying in and around the back of the trailer. The officer headed around the truck and shined his flashlight into the cab.
Bradley got out of his truck's rear camper and told police he was hauling the trailer from Schaller, Iowa, to Brownsville. He did not know what was inside, he told police, until he stopped to use the restroom at the Walmart. After hearing movement in the back of the trailer, Bradley said, he opened the rear door and tried to help the people inside.
The officer detained Bradley and headed back to the rear of the trailer, where he found several of the people inside already dead.
San Antonio police got in touch with federal authorities, including the Department of Homeland Security. At the time, San Antonio police reported that eight people were dead and at least 30 more were injured. Two of the injured later died at the hospital, and several more remain in critical condition, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Police officers took Bradley to SAPD headquarters, where he waived his right to remain silent and agreed to talk with Homeland Security Investigations agents. Bradley largely repeated the story he gave the San Antonio officer. He said his boss sold the trailer Bradley was hauling and told him to deliver it to Brownsville. Bradley told the agents he was not given a time or an address for delivery.
When he stopped at the Walmart to urinate, Bradley said, he heard banging and shaking from the trailer. When he opened the door, he was run over by "Spanish" people and knocked to the ground. From the ground, he said, he noticed people were laying on the floor "like meat" in the back of the trailer. Bradley told the agents he knew the truck refrigeration system didn't work and that the trailer's four vent holes were probably clogged.
After encountering his cargo, Bradley returned to the truck and called his wife, but she didn't answer, he told the agents. He did not call 911.
Many of those in the back of the truck ran out and scattered when he opened the doors, Bradley said, while some people stayed behind in the grass near the truck.
After speaking with Bradley, agents interviewed several passengers in the truck. One of the immigrants, identified in court documents as J.M.M-J, said he left his home in Aguascalientes, Mexico, in order to travel to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and then into the United States. Eventually, he said, he was supposed to get to San Antonio. The trip cost $5,500.
J.M.M-J told the agents that by the time he was loaded into the trailer in South Texas after crossing the Rio Grande via raft, there were already at least 70 people in the trailer. When the smugglers who brought him to the trailer closed its doors, it was pitch black and already hot inside, J.M.M-J said. The smugglers did not give the immigrants any food or water.
Another person in the truck, identified as A.L.V., told agents that he was traveling with seven relatives and 17 others to San Antonio. The 24 people in his group, he said, had been in a Laredo stash house for 11 days before being loaded into the trailer. When his group got in, A.L.V. said, there were about 70 people in the steamy trailer.
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As the trailer was about to leave, smugglers provided each of group in the trailer with a different color of tape so that others at the drop-off point could identify the group they were picking up. The smugglers told J.M.M-J that the truck had refrigeration and that he or she shouldn't worry about the trip.
After an uneventful first hour, people began having trouble breathing and passing out, J.M.M-J told the agents. People began hitting the trailer walls and making noise to get the driver's attention, but the driver never stopped. After a hole was discovered in the side of the trailer, people took turns breathing through it.
J.M.M-J said that the driver braked hard when the truck arrived at the Walmart, causing many in the trailer to fall over. When he opened the door, six black SUVs were waiting to pick the immigrants up, J.M.M-J told agents. They filled up in minutes, he said, and left right away. J.M.M-J told the agents he did not see who opened the doors and did not know who was driving the truck.