A family who tipped police about a missed meeting with a human smuggler in Houston led authorities to a dilapidated house crammed with over 100 immigrants being held against their will.
The “stash house” was discovered when the family of a 24-year-old woman contacted the Houston Police Department, worried about a missed meeting with a “coyote,” or human trafficker, who was supposed to bring a woman and her two young children from Central America.
The investigation led the police to Almeda School Road, where they set up surveillance. They pulled over a car that had been seen leaving Wednesday. Inside the car were guns and evidence of human smuggling, according to a spokesperson for the HPD.
"Our focus from the get-go has been the safety of the mother and the children and the decision was made to go into the residence after these individuals were taken into custody," said Houston Police spokesman John Cannon.
The police arrested the two suspects found in the car, as well as three more who tried to flee.
Upon entering the house, police were met with the sight of a "sea of people coming at the officers.”
94 men and 14 women had been packed into the house.
"Bodies upon bodies, people stacked on top of each other," Cannon described. "Dirty, filthy, conditions."
Luckily, though they were severely hungry, thirsty, and exhausted, none of the people was seriously injured. The police officers gave them food and water, and one pregnant woman was taken to the hospital.
The hostages had been held there at ransom for two days to two weeks in “squalid” conditions. The house had one bathroom with a toilet that barely functioned, Cannon said. The men were only wearing underwear and no shoes to prevent them from escaping, and the doors were dead-bolted from the outside. The property also housed 500 chickens.
The missing woman and her two children were among the hostages. A neighbor described seeing the two children, ages 5 and 7, being released.
"The children were scared," said Noland Luke. "They brought them out, they crying and carrying on. Feel sorry for them."
Neighbors said they never suspected the stash house, which ICE officials called the largest smuggling operation they had uncovered in five years.
"I've lived here for 30 years and I pass by there every single day," said Ovidio Cisneros, who lives nearby. "We never saw no traffic at all.”
The fate of each of the immigrants is up in the air. They have been taken into ICE custody, fingerprinted and given medical screenings. After one-on-one interviews, the ICE will decide if they will be deported to their home countries on a case-by-case basis at immigration hearings.