DENISON, Iowa — Up to 11 badly decomposed bodies, possibly belonging to immigrants who were being smuggled into the country, were found in a Union Pacific rail car parked at a grain elevator outside of town, authorities said Monday.
All the victims boarded the train in Mexico, but their nationality was unconfirmed, said Jerry Heinauer, district director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service for Nebraska and Iowa.
Heinauer said he was told by the Mexican consul that the car left Matamoros, Mexico, in June. It was parked in Oklahoma before heading to Denison, about 60 miles northwest of Omaha, Neb.
Jose Luis Cuevas, Mexican Consul for the Dakotas, Iowa and Nebraska, said railroad officials had given him the impression that the bodies had been in the rail car at least four months.
Cuevas and Heinauer said they didn’t know if the victims were men, women or children.
“We have notified our government and they will advise if they have people whose whereabouts are not known and that might have been heading this way,” Cuevas said.
Workers were opening up a long line of rail cars Monday and noticed bodies inside a covered grain car parked at a grain-handling facility, said Karla Miller, spokeswoman for ADM, a grain processing and food products company based in Decatur, Ill. She said the cars, which had been in storage for several months, were being cleaned and prepared for grain shipments.
“As the workers were opening the cars up, they discovered several badly decomposed bodies,” Miller said. “As soon as the bodies were found, we called the authorities.”
Crawford County Sheriff Tom Hogan said the bodies were left in the rail car, which would be shipped overnight to Des Moines for examination by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the state medical examiner. He also said it did not appear foul play was involved.
Heinauer said authorities do not yet know whether the occupants were being smuggled but said it fit the pattern of smuggling operations.
“Unfortunately it does happen occasionally that smugglers lead migrants into the United States and then they lock them in cars so that authorities wouldn’t check the cars,” Heinauer said.