San Antonio residents hold vigil for 9 suspected human smuggling victims

PHOTO: Mia Gonzalez holds a flower and artificial candle as she takes part in a vigil at San Fernando Cathedral for victims who died as a result of being transported in a tractor-trailer, July 23, 2017, in San Antonio. PlayEric Gay/AP
WATCH Human smuggling horror discovered in Texas death trap

Residents in San Antonio, Texas held a vigil on Sunday to honor the undocumented immigrants who were found dead inside of a sweltering hot semi-trailer where temperatures topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Dozens of people gathered at the San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio on Sunday afternoon to mourn the nine people who were killed and the nearly 30 others who were injured in what authorities described as an apparent human smuggling attempt.

The victims were found outside of a Walmart on the city’s Southside packed inside of a un-air conditioned tractor-trailer without ventilation or access to water, according to authorities. Most of the victims were men in their 20s and 30s and two were children, authorities said.

Jose Luis Gonzalez, a Mexican immigrant who moved to the U.S. when he was 9 years old, said he attended the vigil to because the story broke his heart.

"People try to come down here to live the American dream," Gonzalez told ABC affiliate KSAT on Sunday.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) also attended the vigil and released a statement on the matter earlier on Sunday.

“These deaths are tragic and avoidable,” Castro said in a statement. “The smugglers responsible for the incident, who showed no regard for the lives of the people they were transporting, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

PHOTO: Officials tow a truck that was found to contain 38 suspected illegal immigrants in San Antonio, July 23, 2017. Darren Abate/EPA
Officials tow a truck that was found to contain 38 suspected illegal immigrants in San Antonio, July 23, 2017.

The event was organized by the immigrant advocacy group the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), which called the incident "tragic."

"RAICES mourns this tragic loss of life,” a spokesman said on behalf of the group. “We hope and pray for the survivors to recover quickly and find peace, safety, and justice. This heartbreaking situation highlights the lengths that migrants will go to seek refuge in the United States. We value, honor and respect migrant lives.”

RAICES also said it condemned the San Antonio Police Department for how handled the case.

“Instead of offering a humanitarian response, SAPD called an enforcement agency with its own track record of causing migrant deaths and criminalizing, detaining, and deporting vulnerable populations,” the organization said in a statement. “We resist all attempts to dehumanize the survivors of this tragedy.”

The police department denied RAICES' accusations and said: "the care and welfare of the victims was our top priority."

"SAPD Officers administered first aid, helped rescue those that were still inside the trailer, and cleared the parking lot so that Airlife could quickly land and transport those with the most serious injuries," San Antonio police spokesman Sgt. Jesse Salame told KSAT in a statement Sunday. "Now is not the time to point fingers and politicize the tragic loss of human life. We will continue to do our part to ensure all people in our city are protected, regardless of their citizenship status."