- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2003

HOUSTON (AP) — More than 400 people yesterday mourned the 19 illegal immigrants who died while trapped in a stifling trailer during a smuggling operation.

“We want to pray for people’s rights to be respected, for justice to be served and cooperation of governments to ensure these things don’t happen,” said Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Catholic Diocese of Galveston-Houston, who celebrated Mass for the victims.

Jeannette Morales, the 18-year-old widow of Juan Jose Morales, said she last spoke to her 23-year-old husband five days before he was found dead.

“He just told me he was going to come home and ‘Happy Mother’s Day,’” the Houston woman said as a tear rolled down her right cheek.

She said her late husband, who worked construction jobs to support her and their 18-month-old daughter, had been in Mexico visiting his mother.

“I still can’t believe he’s dead,” she said. “He wanted to live and work here. Those people just wanted to come and make a better life. They didn’t know what they were doing.”

Juan Morales was among 70 to 100 illegal immigrants in the trailer, which had been abandoned at a truck stop near Victoria, more than 100 miles southwest of Houston.

Seventeen were found dead early Wednesday, and two others died later. Initial autopsy reports show they died of dehydration, hyperthermia and suffocation.

Five remain hospitalized, said the press officer to Mexico’s consul general in Houston, Eduardo Ibarrola.

The truck driver who abandoned the trailer, Tyrone Williams, 32, was charged last week with conspiracy to smuggle, transport and conceal illegal immigrants. Authorities are looking for other suspects.

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