Officers found more than 90 people crammed into a Houston home on Friday, some of them showing symptoms of Covid-19, in what was being investigated as a possible case of human smuggling, the police said.
Assistant Chief Daryn Edwards of the Houston Police Department said that the police had received a tip overnight about a possible kidnapping, which led them to a two-story home in southwest Houston.
Inside the home, Chief Edwards said, officials found more than 90 people “all huddled together.” Of those inside the home, about five were women and the rest were men. The youngest of those inside the home were in their 20s and the oldest appeared to be in their 30s, Chief Edwards said.
“This is obviously not something we see often, but it is disturbing,” the chief said, adding that the scene struck him as “more of a smuggling thing and not a trafficking thing.”
No one in the home appeared to be seriously injured, he said.
On Friday afternoon, officials were working to determine how many of the people inside the home may have been smuggling victims, Chief Edwards said.
Before officials could relocate those inside the home, Chief Edwards said, they would have to be tested for the coronavirus by the local Health Department because some people inside the home were showing symptoms of Covid-19, including fever and the inability to taste or smell.
The police were also bringing food to the home because those inside told officials they hadn’t eaten “in a while,” Chief Edwards said.
Investigators from the Department of Homeland Security were on the scene to evaluate the possibility of human smuggling, he added.
Chief Edwards said the department was seeking assistance from the community to help reduce crime in Houston, including asking residents to call the police when they see suspicious activity.
“Even if there’s any doubt at all, just call us,” Chief Edwards said. “We need the community to be able to speak with us and work with us to resolve incidents.”
In a similar case in December, a 36-year-old Honduran man was arrested on suspicion of “harboring” 29 people in a southwest Houston home that had “boarded-up windows and deadbolt locks on the inside doors,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.
After a person fled the home and contacted the police, officials found 28 men and one woman in the home, according to federal prosecutors. Those inside the home were said to be from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Cuba, the office said.
The man who was arrested, Mauro Dominguez-Maldonado, faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to prosecutors.