A Mexican and a Salvadoran will be charged with smuggling aliens in a three-day desert ordeal that ended in 13 deaths, the Border Patrol announced tonight.
The announcement came as 10 of the surviving aliens were transported from Ajo, Ariz., to Tucson to face charges and help identify their dead comrades.
A 54-year-old man from Sonoita, Mexico, and a 26-year-old from Chalantengo, El Salvador, the alleged smugglers, were among the 10 taken to Tucson.
"The primay reason for bringing them [to Tucson] is to get them over sometime tomorrow to view and help us identify the bodies" of the 13 people who died during the ordeal, Sgt. Mark Pettit of Pima County sheriff's department said. The bodies -- some blackened from exposure to the harsh desert sun -- are being kept in the Tucson medical examiner's office, he said.
Although a magistrate set bond of $2,000 for each of the survivors, Pettit said no one would be released from custody until all the survivors had viewed the bodies.
The development came as a task force of bilingual federal and state law officers met in Ajo to review preliminary findings of an investigation of the deaths, which occurred after about 30 Salvadorans crossed a remote section of the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday night.
The group also was debating the fate of the survivors, some of whom have said they fear they will be killed if they are returned to El Salvador.
The meeting occurred as Border Patrol agents and sheriff's deputies continued their own investigations into the incident. Pettit described the local probe as a "homicide investigation," while federal authorities were reportedly examining alleged smuggling activities.
Authorities today interviewed 14 survivors, including four women in serious condition at an Ajo hospital, and came up with new bits of information about the ordeal.
"Our investigation has discounted the idea that these people were robbed and dropped in the desert to die," Pettit said. "We found money on many" of them.
Earlier reports of rape were discounted after the interviews and after medical examiners had an opportunity to view the bodies, Pettit said.
Authorities said two survivors and at least one of the dead were Mexican nationals.
Officials said that 40 to 43 Salvadorans had contracted to be transported into the United States and that they made their way to the Mexicali region of Mexico early last week.
The group apparently believed that an airplane would fly them from the Mexican border to Los Angeles. When the Salvadorans learned other wise, about 12 stayed behind in Mexico.
The others, with their guides, drove eastward on the Mexican side of the border. Later they abandoned their trucks and crossed the border about 12 miles west of Lukesville.
They apparently expected to be met on the American side of the border, but were not. At that point, the group -- short of water and improperly dressed for the desert terrain -- became disoriented and split up.
During their ordeal, they drank cosmetics, after-shave lotion, deodorant and their own urine in an attempt to remain alive.