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

A rockfall closed Finlayson Arm Road and West Shore Parkway on Friday (March 5) afternoon. (Twitter/BC Transportation)
UPDATED: Malahat reopens following rockfall

Section of Trans-Canada Highway was scheduled for intermittent closures today for rock scaling work

In years past in-person ceremonies have been held for International Women’s Day. This year the observance is going online on Monday, March 8, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (file photo)
Virtual ceremony for Women’s Day in Cowichan on Monday

Audrey George, manager of the Ts’i’ts’uwatul’ Lelum assisted living facility, will be keynote speaker.

North Cowichan councillor Rob Douglas is advocating for a pilot project that would see the forest industry on Vancouver Island and the coast managed regionally. (File photo)
N. Cowichan councillor continues push for regional management of forestry

North Cowichan councillor wants pilot project established

Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor. (Photo by Bernard Thibodeau)
NDP tables dental care program

Millions of Canadians don’t visit the dentist every year because they can’t afford to.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Most Read