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Across borders and formats, AP delivers sweeping, sensitive coverage of migrant smuggling tragedy

Police and other first responders in San Antonio work the scene where dozens of migrants were found dead in an abandoned semitrailer in sweltering Texas heat, June 27, 2022. At least 53 people died in the deadliest tragedy to claim the lives of migrants smuggled across the border from Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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Reporting from four different countries after the discovery of a tractor-trailer in San Antonio in which 53 migrants died,AP journalists working in all formats used AP’s unmatched reach to stay atop developments in the investigation and to share the journeys of those who perished by locating and talking to relatives and a survivor. Their teamwork earns Best of the Week — Second Winner.

In Texas,photographer Eric Gay,video journalist Mike Householder and text reporters Juan Lozano and Paul Weber sped to the scene. Lozano and Weber reported on victims and the law enforcement response while members of the immigration beat team,including Elliott Spagat,worked on determining how it had happened. Spagat confirmed the initial death toll and key developments in the investigation, his expertise in covering the border and other smuggling incidents helping drive AP’s coverage with fresh ideas and perspective. AP colleague John Seewer jumped in from Ohio as an anchor writer and Chicago’s Tammy Webber provided an explainer on heat deaths.

When U.S. authorities were slow to provide information about the victims,reporters relied on government and non-governmental-organization sources and scoured both local media reports and social media platforms for clues. Mexico City reporter Fabiola Sánchez and San Diego-based Julie Watson were able to move the first account from a victim’s family,one day after the trailer’s discovery,when Sanchez interviewed the victim’s family in Oaxaca.

In the days that followed,AP journalists fanned out in capital cities and remote mountain villages,approaching families with sensitivity and telling the stories of lives lost in a sweltering trailer — what had driven the migrants to leave,and family members’ agony as they awaited word. Freelancers,especially for visuals,were critical to reaching families quickly across the region, among them photographer Delmer Martinez and video journalist Claudio Escalon; they visited two Honduran families whose loved ones were among the dead.

The stories provided a nuanced look at those who ultimately risked their lives to reach the United States — 13-year-old Guatemalan cousins who barely spoke Spanish,but who wanted to build homes for their families; three teenage Mexican cousins who had given themselves four years to make enough money in the U.S. to open a clothing store in their Mexican village; the story of a young college-educated Honduran couple desperate for opportunity,reported by Christopher Sherman,Mexico-based news director.

Many other journalists contributed, among them the freelance team of reporter Alba Alemán and photographers Félix Marquez and Yerania Rolon who found the extended Olivares family in Veracruz,Mexico, awaiting word on their three teenage cousins.

Once the migrants’ motivations and journeys were established,the remaining gap was what happened inside the trailer. The only known survivors were still hospitalized in San Antonio. Guatemala reporter Sonia Pérez D. tried a phone number obtained by Guatemala photojournalist Moises Castillo and reached the father of one hospitalized survivor.

The father told Pérez what little he knew and agreed to meet. Pérez asked if they could call his daughter,Yenifer. They called from inside a car to limit noise and to hear Yenifer recount in a soft voice the suffocating temperatures, the smugglers’ attempt to disguise their scent with powdered bouillon and the migrants’ unheeded pleas for help until she lost consciousness. That exclusive interview ran in El Universal, one of Mexico’s most prominent papers.

AP’s stories,photos and video were widely across the U.S. and Latin America.

The Texas Tribune,which covered the tragedy closely,sought permission to run one of the victim’s stories despite not being an AP member. Editor-in-chief Sewell Chan described it in a tweet as a “powerful” story and credited AP and its journalists.

For sweeping breaking news coverage across borders that reveals details both harrowing and poignant,the team of Lozano,Weber,Householder,Gay,Spagat,Sánchez,Watson,Escalon,Martínez,Pérez D.,Castillo,Aléman,Marquez,Rolon,Sherman,Seewer and Webber,and colleagues across the Americas, earns AP‘s Best of the Week — Second Winner.

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