EL PASO — Donated coffins were readied Sunday to carry the bodies of 18 illegal aliens back to the Mexican communities they had left before suffocating in an airtight boxcar inching across the Texas desert.
The Mexican government is arranging and paying for the return of the bodies because their families cannot afford it, said Beatriz Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Mexican Consulate. A funeral home in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez donated the coffins.
Fifteen bodies had been positively identified by Sunday morning, Lopez said. Officials said the bodies probably will be returned early this week.
The 18 men, who were locked in the foam-insulated, airtight boxcar at an El Paso freight yard last week, died during a long and desperate night fighting for oxygen in the 130-degree heat. One man, 21-year-old Miguel Tostado Rodriguez, was still alive when the boxcar was opened Thursday.
All of those identified were from the Aguascalientes city of Pabellon de Arteaga and the Zacatecas towns of Ojo Caliente and El Saucito, Lopez said.
Mexican government planes will fly the bodies to an airport in Aguascalientes, and those from Zacatecas will be taken from the airport by motor vehicle.
"They (family members) do not have the money to take them into Mexico. (They're) very poor people," Lopez said.
Investigators say they are looking for an alien smuggler nicknamed "El Chapulin," which means "The Grasshopper." He is believed to have locked the 19 men into the boxcar Wednesday after tossing them two railroad spikes that were supposed to be used to chip a hole for air during the trip to Dallas-Fort Worth.