‘I Can’t Breathe:’ Vietnamese Woman’s Text Sparks Fears She Is Among 39 Who Died in UK Truck Container

Wire Service
By Wire Service
October 26, 2019UKshare
‘I Can’t Breathe:’ Vietnamese Woman’s Text Sparks Fears She Is Among 39 Who Died in UK Truck Container
View of a truck, seen in rear, that was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, in Thurrock, South England, on early Oct. 23, 2019. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

Fears are growing that Vietnamese nationals are among the 39 people found dead in a refrigerated lorry trailer at an industrial park in Grays, Essex, on Wednesday, Oct. 23.

A Vietnamese government source told CNN the government has been contacted by a father who thinks his daughter, Pham Thi Tra My, 26, may be one of the victims.

The father sent an emergency request to the local authority in Ha Tinh province, about 200 miles south of Hanoi, reporting Pham missing after she left for the UK on Oct. 3, traveling via China and France.

Pham sent text messages to her mother, according Hoa Nghiem, a coordinator with Hanoi’s Human Rights Space, who has been in touch with a family representative. Pham said she could not breathe in what is believed to be her last text to her mother, according to a screenshot shared by Nghiem.

Britain 39 bodies found 1
An aerial view as police forensic officers attend the scene after a truck was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, in Thurock, South England, early on Oct. 23, 2019. (UK Pool via AP)

Vietnam’s embassy in London has been working with British authorities after receiving requests Friday “from some Vietnamese families asking for the Embassy’s help” in finding out whether their family members were among the victims, the embassy wrote in a statement.

Essex police initially reported they believed that all the victims were Chinese nationals, but said Friday that “it is now a developing picture.”

“The force will not be commenting on any speculation about the nationalities of those who have tragically lost their lives,” the deputy chief constable from Essex police, Pippa Mills, said in a televised statement on Friday.

“I strongly urge journalists and people on social media not to speculate about the identities of those involved or the circumstances surrounding this investigation,” she added.

‘I Can’t Breathe’

Pham’s text messages were sent at 4.28 a.m. on Wednesday, Vietnamese time, which would have been 10.28 p.m. on Tuesday, UK time—when the trailer was in transit to the English port of Purfleet, according to Maritime tables seen by CNN.

The text said: “I’m sorry Dad and Mom. The way I went overseas was not successful. Mom, I love Dad and you so much. I’m dying because I can’t breathe. Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam. Mom, I am so sorry, Mom.”

The BBC reported Friday it spoke with Pham’s family members, who said they had not heard from Pham since that text, adding that they paid £30,000 ($38,000) for her to be smuggled into Britain.

In a Facebook group, Pham’s brother sent a message imploring others to provide information on his sister’s whereabouts.

“On Oct 3, my sister headed from Ha Tinh province to Hanoi to work on procedures to fly to China, some days later she flew to France then to U.K.,” Pham Manh Cuong wrote.

“Some days ago she was captured by British police and police sent her back to France, and she came back to U.K. I got the info that she’s dead now. So I post this message here asking for your help if you have any info about her.”

Driver Charged

U.K. police have charged the truck driver Saturday with 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people in connection with 39 deaths.

Police say Maurice Robinson, 25, of Craigavon, Northern Ireland is due to appear at Chelmsford Magistrates Court on Monday. He was the first of those arrested to be charged in what is seen as one of the U.K.’s biggest cases of people smuggling.

Maurice Robinson
Maurice Robinson. (Mo Robinson/Facebook via CNN)

Five people are being questioned by police, including the truck driver and three people who were arrested Friday on suspicion on manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people. Irish police said another man was arrested Saturday in connection with the case.

British police said Saturday they have removed all the bodies from the truck and are awaiting autopsies. Identifying the victims is expected to be difficult and officials said very few documents were found with the bodies. Smugglers normally take the passports of their passengers to obscure their identities, stripping them of their names and giving them new documents when they arrive at their destinations.

This week’s investigation is a painful reminder of the tragic events in 2000, when 58 Chinese migrants were found dead in a lorry in Dover.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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