BROOKS COUNTY — Many have died crossing into the U.S. illegally, but no other county has reported as many migrants found dead in brutal Texas brush as Brooks county, but the recent finding of a migrant changed everything.
Investigative Reporter Yami Virgin goes behind the headlines across the country, which reported, a migrant appeared to have been lynched in South Texas, she investigates what really is going on in Brooks county.
It's 944 square miles of deep brush.
“Our corridor is Highway 281 or I-69 West,” says Sheriff Benny Martinez, Brooks County Sheriff’s Office.
More than an hour away from the Rio Grande and the border, many migrants find trails to continue their trek north into the U.S., right through this small rural county.
“So, that's, you know, our population is about 7,273,” says Sheriff Martinez.
That as Sheriff Benny Martinez tells us fluctuates.
“You know, so we don't have any type of hospital here. Ambulances run 24/7 just to get them to the local hospital, which is just 30 minutes away to Kingsville,” says Sheriff Martinez. “That's Brooks County.”
This year alone, Sheriff Martinez says 108 migrants have been found dead in his county.
“That's not including the 10 that passed away during a fatality, so you include those, that’s 117,” says Sheriff Martinez. “It’s just a corridor, we’re right in the middle. We're in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of everything.”
In the middle of what authorities who work here say is an area that smugglers use to push people to the limit, to where they actually mentally and physically get fatigued and give up before making it to a stash house.
“Once that happens, it sits in, the hopeless type attitude comes in, the thoughts come in, they get left behind because they get injured, etc. and they just they perish out there by themselves,” says Sheriff Martinez. “It's one of those deaths, that you know you're dying. You're dying by yourself.
You know, we do have a lot of calls where they're calling in the last moments, I guess before they die.”
“And behind me is a stash house. It is about three miles outside of the city of Falfurrias. The people that make it here, about 15 to 20 of them normally are considered to be the lucky ones, because they survived the brush and they will end up getting picked up by a coyote which will then head north,” says Yami Virgin.
Sheriff Martinez with the help of Border Patrol has put over 15,000 placards with numbers out here. All they have to do is call and tell the operator the number of the placard and help will come before it’s too late.
“For some reason that they're not utilizing them. And I think I know the reason, because the smuggler, the coyote doesn't want them to use that placard. Because then we're going to know the route,” says Sheriff Martinez.
Absurd as Sheriff Martinez is quick to point out since there are more than 300 trails out here, the coyotes have been moving the migrants to a more deadly area.
“They’re kind of moving over more remotely over to the west, which a lot more remote area, where you really don't get a phone signal, not even us can get a phone signal out there,” says Sheriff Martinez.
“How are they found? Yami asks. “Some of them are found by oil field gaugers, you know, we still have some oil fields out there that get checked or they get found by cowboys, they get found by landowners or sometimes we get people that will call us and as a very rare occasion - when we actually get to the coordinates they give us and the body is there,” says Sheriff Martinez.
But recently something captured national headlines a death that seemed out of the ordinary.
“Let me ask you. So recently, the other piece of news that came out was that one of them one of the migrants had been lynched. Yes. That's not the type of news that you want out about your county?” Yami asks.
Wednesday night, Sheriff Martinez reveals what the medical examiner found and where officials put all of the bodies that are being recovered.