One of the 39 people found dead in a truck east of London this week is believed to have sent a series of harrowing text messages to her parents in Vietnam saying she was suffocating.
“Dear Mom, I’m very sorry, mom and dad. I wasn’t able to get abroad. Dear mom, I love you mom and dad a lot. I’m dying because I can’t breathe. . . . Mom, I am sorry, mom,” the short messages read. The texts came from 26-year-old Pham Thi Tra My, who also included her address in Vietnam and a picture of a small heart. There was no reply, and an automated message said the receiver had not yet seen them.
They were eventually read by Ms. Tra My’s family, who have been trying to find her, and made public via Twitter Friday by Hoa Nghiem, the co-ordinator of Vietnam’s Human Rights Space, who said she had the family’s permission. Ms. Nghiem said the messages were sent at 10:30 p.m. U.K. time on Tuesday, two hours before the refrigerated trailer containing the bodies arrived at the Purfleet container port in Grays, east of London.
Freight experts say the people inside wouldn’t have stood a chance because that type of trailer is usually airtight and generally used to transport goods at -25 C.
The trailer travelled from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge late Tuesday and was picked up in Grays at about 1 a.m. Wednesday. The driver took it to a nearby industrial estate, where it was found by Essex Police about an hour later.
Police have been trying to identify the bodies, and officers said this week that all of the people were Chinese. Ms. Nghiem said Friday that she believed some were from Vietnam.
“It was told on the news that all 39 people were Chinese, but Ms. Tra My’s family is trying to verify if their daughter was among them,” she said on Twitter. She said Ms. Tra My had gone to China and planned to head to Britain via France.
She added that she had been given the names of three other people, including one person born in 2004. "Our contact is getting more alerts that there could be more Vietnamese people in the truck.”
Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said Friday that police would not confirm whether some of those on board were from Vietnam. “We gave an initial steer on Thursday on nationality, however this is now a developing picture," she said. “As such I will not be drawn on any further detail until formal identification processes approved by Her Majesty’s Coroner have taken place.”
Ms. Tra My’s brother, Pham Ngoc Tuan, told the BBC that she paid £30,000 ($50,251) to human smugglers and that her last known location had been Belgium. He added that she left home on Oct. 3. “She flew to China and stayed there for a couple of days, then left for France,” he said. "She called us when she reached each destination. The first attempt she made to cross the border to the U.K. was 19 October, but she got caught and turned back. I don’t know for sure from which port.”
Police have arrested the truck driver, 25-year-old Maurice Robinson, on suspicion of murder. Robinson has been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people, and will appear in court on Monday.
On Friday they arrested two people in Warrington who once owned the truck. A 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland was also arrested Friday at Stansted Airport, north of London. All three are being held on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and suspicion of manslaughter.
Investigators have said it will take some time to identify the bodies and piece together the trailer’s journey. The case involves a complex trail that runs through England, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Belgium and Bulgaria. The truck was registered in Bulgaria two years ago by a woman in Ireland. The trailer is owned by an Irish company, Global Trailer Rentals, which has confirmed that it rented it out on Oct. 15 at a weekly rate of €275 ($398). The company said the trailer has a GPS tracker and it will turn over all data to police.
Mr. Robinson is from Northern Ireland, and police say he travelled to England last Sunday via Dublin and the Holyhead port in Wales. It’s not clear if he had any idea the stowaways were on board when he picked up the trailer early Wednesday.
Police have moved the bodies to a hospital in Chelmsford, and the first postmortem examinations began Friday. “Formal identification will then follow the coronial process and will be a lengthy but crucial part of this investigation,” Deputy Chief Const. Mills said Friday.
With a report from Tu Thanh Ha in Toronto, and one from Reuters