Police escort the truck, that was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, as they move it from an industrial estate in Thurrock, south England, Wednesday Oct. 23, 2019. Police in southeastern England said that 39 people were found dead Wednesday inside a truck container believed to have come from Bulgaria. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Police escort the truck, that was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, as they move it from an industrial estate in Thurrock, south England, Wednesday Oct. 23, 2019. Police in southeastern England said that 39 people were found dead Wednesday inside a truck container believed to have come from Bulgaria. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

‘I’m dying’: Relatives await answers after 39 found dead in Britain smuggling case

Dozens of families looking for any information about their loved ones

One family received a final text from their daughter saying she couldn’t breathe and was dying. Another grieving family set up a makeshift altar for their missing daughter who paid $10,000 in hopes of pursuing a career as a nail technician in Britain. A desperate father is searching for his son, who frequently calls home but hasn’t since last week.

They are some of the dozens of families looking for any information about their loved ones following the discovery earlier this week of 39 bodies in the back of a sealed truck in southeastern England. The investigation into the gruesome case is still in the early stages, but British officials have deemed it one of the deadliest cases of people smuggling ever reported in the country.

British police charged the 25-year-old truck driver Saturday with 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people. Five people are being questioned by police, including the truck driver and three people who were arrested Friday on suspicion on manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people. Irish police said another man was arrested Saturday in connection with the case.

British police said Saturday they have removed all the bodies from the truck and are awaiting autopsies. Identifying the victims is expected to be difficult and officials said very few documents were found with the bodies. Smugglers normally take the passports of their passengers to obscure their identities, stripping them of their names and giving them new documents when they arrive at their destinations.

Police initially believed the victims were Chinese but later acknowledged that the details were still evolving. The Vietnamese government also announced Sunday its own investigation into the deaths and set up a hotline for families.

That comes after attention shifted to Vietnam Friday, when the family of a 26-year-old Vietnamese woman released text messages suggesting she had suffocated in the truck. Relatives of Pham Tra My told the BBC they had been unable to contact the 26-year-old since receiving a text Tuesday night saying she was suffocating.

ALSO READ: UK police expand probe, say 39 dead in truck all from China

“I’m so sorry mom and dad. … My journey abroad doesn’t succeed,” she wrote. “Mom, I love you and dad very much. I’m dying because I can’t breathe. … Mom, I’m so sorry.”

In the village of Yen Thanh in north-central Vietnam, the mother and a sister of Bui Thi Nhung mourned Saturday as they set up an altar for the 19-year-old woman. A family friend in the U.K. told them their relative had died in the tragedy.

Nhung paid an agent thousands of dollars in hopes of finding work at a nail parlour in Britain.

“Many families in Yen Thanh got rich from money sent back by their children working abroad,” said Le Dình Tuan, a neighbour who had gone to her house to check on her mother.

The father of 20-year-old Nguyen Dình Luong fears his son is among the dead. He told The Associated Press he hadn’t been able to reach his son since last week, when the young man told his father he planned to join a group in Paris that was trying to reach England.

“He often called home, but I haven’t been able to reach him since the last time we talked last week,” Nguyen Dình Gia said. “I told him that he could go to anywhere he wants as long as it’s safe. He shouldn’t be worried about money, I’ll take care of it.”

His older brother, Pham Dình Hai, said Luong had a tattoo of praying hands on a cross on his right shoulder. The family said they shared the information with local authorities.

Desperate families are now reaching out to the media, community organizations and acquaintances in the U.K., hoping for any scrap of news. A representative for VietHome, which serves Vietnamese people in the U.K., said it had forwarded to police the pictures of almost 20 people who have been reported missing.

Bernie Gravett, a former Metropolitan Police officer who now advises the European Union on human trafficking, told the BBC that the use of false identification and the sheer numbers of people travelling to Europe make such efforts difficult.

“It’s a cruel stage for the families, because hundreds if not thousands are currently on those routes, so I appreciate we are getting calls from Vietnam saying my loved one is missing and my loved one may be on that lorry (truck), but they could be on another lorry,” he said.

The investigation stretches across Europe and authorities are trying to track the movements of the truck before the victims were discovered early Wednesday morning at an industrial park in Graves, England, a town 25 miles (40 kilometres) east of London.

This is just the latest smuggling tragedy as tens of thousands of people move across Europe in search of security and economic opportunity.

Groups of migrants have repeatedly landed on English shores in small boats after making the risky Channel crossing, and migrants are often found in the back of cars and trucks that disembark from the massive ferries that link France and England.

Dinh reported from Hanoi. Danica Kirka in London contributed.

Hau Dinh, Giap Nguyen And Danica Kirka, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
Dr. Wayne John Edwards, 66, died Tuesday at Chinook Regional Hospital. (Cornerstone Funeral Home)
Lethbridge doctor becomes 7th Alberta health-care worker to die from COVID-19

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, who was 66, died Tuesday at the Chinook Regional Hospital in the southern Alberta city

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

Erin O’Toole said he supports a woman’s right to choose and will personally vote against the private member’s bill

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

A empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. The Alberta government says schools in Calgary will move to at-home learning starting Monday for students in grades 7 to 12.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary schools to shift to at-home learning for grades 7 to 12 due to COVID-19

The change, due to COVID-19, is to last for two weeks

A man wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 spike in B.C. could overwhelm B.C. hospitals: modelling group

There are 397 people are in hospital due to the virus, surpassing a previous high of 374 seen in December

Most Read