Police in Houston received a tip about a possible kidnapping case on Thursday night, but what they eventually found left them shocked.
After working through the night to verify the tip, police on Friday raided a two-story home on Chessington Drive, a quiet street in the southwest suburbs with manicured lawns and American flags hanging from beige homes.
Inside, they found at least 90 people crammed onto every inch of wooden floor, Daryn Edwards, assistant chief of Houston Police’s Homeland Security Command, said in a Friday press briefing.
“It was a big surprise when we got in the house and saw what we saw,” he said. “When [police] got inside the house, they realized this is actually going to turn into a human smuggling investigation.”
Just five of the people inside were women, and there were no children, he said. No one was tied up or in poor condition, but they said they hadn’t eaten in a while. Several were displaying COVID-19 symptoms, like fever and loss of smell and taste.
“They basically are in there, in their basic clothing, and all huddled together,” Edwards said. “That’s what we saw when we got in.”
Patricia Cantu, assistant chief of the Houston Police Department, said the men were in “deplorable conditions” and some could barely stand.
Crews spent the day taking people out of the home, one by one and in forensic jumpsuits. At least one man had to be stretchered out, others could walk. Some said they hadn’t eaten in days and were dehydrated, Cantu said.
Police believe the kidnapping tip came from a family member who feared they had a relative holed up in the home. Neighbors told investigators they hadn’t noticed anything unusual.
“It’s really strange that so many people can be inside a house, and we didn’t notice,” neighbor Kai Lynch told the Houston Chronicle. We really need to be more vigilant.”
Flor Anderson, another neighbor, told the Chronicle that a relative of an immigrant in the house called police because they were being told they had to pay money in order to get the immigrant out of the house.
Houston is about 300 miles from the nearest border crossing. Edwards said their initial inquiries suggest that the men had entered the country for work. “It is definitely more of a smuggling thing and not a trafficking thing,” he said.
In the last year, Houston police have investigation two possible human smuggling cases in which groups of men were held captive in homes in southwest Houston.