Police launched a murder probe Wednesday after a truck was discovered carrying 39 dead bodies in the English county of Essex, just east of London. The truck driver, a 25-year-old from Northern Ireland, was taken into custody.
"This is an absolute tragedy, and a very sad day," said Pippa Mills, deputy chief constable of Essex Police.
Police said they’re in the early stages of the investigation — there’s still a lot to be learned. But some information has started to make its way to the public.
Here’s what we know so far.
The dead appear to be migrants
Thirty-eight of the dead appeared to be adults, while one was a teenager, police said.
“The police are still trying to identify the dead, but all the evidence would suggest that these were migrants,” said Bill Neely, NBC’s chief global correspondent, on air.
Police said they couldn’t yet say where the people were from, let alone who they were.
“At this stage we have not identified where the victims are from or their identities,” Mills said. “And we anticipate this could be a lengthy process.”
A refrigerated container
Police were called to the industrial park in the town of Grays in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The bodies were in the back of the truck, inside what appeared to be a refrigerated container, Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, told the BBC.
"Can we just think for a moment of what it must have been like for those 39 people, obviously in a desperate and dangerous situation, for their lives to end, suffocated to death in a container?" said Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party.
Authorities think the truck originated in Bulgaria and took a looping route into the country through the Welsh port of Holyhead. A spokesman for the Bulgarian foreign affairs ministry told the BBC it had not been confirmed that the truck was registered in Bulgaria.
"If the lorry came from Bulgaria, getting into Britain via Holyhead is an unorthodox route,” said Seamus Leheny, Northern Ireland policy manager for the Freight Transport Association (FTA), according to Sky News.
The driver may have taken such a route to avoid checkpoints intended to curtail human trafficking.
‘All too regular an occurrence’
Essex Police said it was working alongside a number of partner agencies to try to piece together what happened. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was being kept up to date.
“I am receiving regular updates and the Home Office will work closely with Essex Police as we establish exactly what has happened,” Johnson said on Twitter. “My thoughts are with all those who lost their lives [and] their loved ones.”
There have been incidents similar to Wednesday’s tragedy. In 2015, 71 bodies were found inside a freezer truck on a highway in Austria. Most of the dead were migrants from Syria, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Sadly, this is not the first time that we have found people in metal containers in my constituency,” said Jackie Doyle-Price, a Conservative lawmaker, according to the Washington Post. “We’re really sorry to say it’s all-too-regular an occurrence and it was only a matter of time before that would end in tragedy.”
Cover: Police stand near the site where 39 bodies were discovered in the back of a lorry on October 23, 2019 in Thurrock, England. The lorry was discovered early Wednesday morning in Waterglade Industrial Park on Eastern Avenue in the town of Grays. Authorities said they believed the lorry originated in Bulgaria. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)