HOUSTON — Eighty-two individuals, who were allegedly held as hostages, were freed Wednesday from a human smuggling stash house — and an additional four suspected human smugglers were arrested — by special agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and officers from the Houston Police Department (HPD).
A call was received Tuesday from the mother of a 16-year-old girl being held hostage in the Houston area. HSI and HPD initiated the investigation, resulting in the teenager's rescue Wednesday in a parking lot located near I-10 and Gessner Street.
Based on information developed at the scene, HSI identified a stash house operating out of a residence located on the 3400 block of Boxelder Drive in west Houston. An estimated 70 individuals, who allegedly been smuggled into the United States, were expected to be held in the house. Additional information indicated that the individuals inside were being held as hostages by smugglers carrying firearms.
A total of 86 individuals were discovered at the residence from the following countries: Costa Rica (eight), Ecuador (one), El Salvador (26), Guatemala (20), Honduras (18) and Mexico (13). Of the 86 individuals encountered, 62 are male, 15 are female, and nine are juveniles. Their ages ranged from 14 to 48. Four individuals encountered at the house are suspected of being human smugglers from Mexico.
"Aliens smuggled into the United States can become kidnapping victims while waiting for their smuggling fees to be paid," said Sean McElroy, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. "HSI is committed to using every available resource to identify, investigate and arrest transnational criminal organizations involved in hostage taking and human smuggling."
All 82 individuals freed from the stash house are currently in ICE custody and are undergoing administrative and medical processing. This is an ongoing investigation.