- TikTok star Gabriel Salazar was killed along with three others in a car wreck on September 26.
- Authorities have since said that three passengers were undocumented immigrants from Mexico.
- Homeland Security is reportedly investigating if the car was part of a “human smuggling event.”
The car wreck that killed TikTok star Gabriel Salazar and three others is being investigated as a “possible human smuggling event,” the Homeland Security Investigations arm of the US Department of Homeland Security said, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
Salazar, 19, was killed along with three others in a car accident on September 26 in Zavala County, Texas. The Zavala County Sheriff’s Office said the vehicle was being pursued by police shortly before the accident occurred. Police say that their investigation suggests Salazar was driving.
Salazar had 1.8 million TikTok followers on his account @gabenotbabe. Since joining the app in 2019, he posted content such as comedy sketches, lip syncs, and dance videos.
Fellow influencer and frequent collaborator Chris Vaquez launched a GoFundMe for Salazar following his death, while users flooded his final Instagram and TikTok posts with tributes. According to an Instagram account purportedly run by his sister, his funeral took place on Wednesday, September 29.
Staff Sergeant Erick Estrada of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s highway patrol division previously told Insider that the vehicle they believe Salazar was driving the night of the crash “struck some trees, rolled several times, and […] caught fire.” He also confirmed that Salazar and the three other passengers were pronounced dead at the scene. The passengers were initially unidentified.
Zavala County Sherriff’s Office later said in another Facebook post last Wednesday that three of the four passengers who died in a car accident were identified as “illegal immigrants from Mexico.” A law enforcement source, whom the outlet said wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the case and the media attention surrounding it, reportedly told the Express-News that there was only one car accident on Sunday, September 26, which killed four people, and that it was the same accident that killed Salazar.
On Friday, two anonymized law enforcement sources reportedly told the Express-News that the Texas Department of Public Safety has listed the three passengers killed in September’s crash as undocumented immigrants. These sources, kept anonymous because of the case’s sensitivity and media interest, also told the Express-News that the Department has started separate traffic fatality and criminal investigations, the outlet reported.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations also reportedly told the Express-News it was investigating a quadruple-fatality car wreck in Zavala County as a human smuggling attempt.
A spokesperson for Homeland Security Investigations said a criminal investigation into the incident is ongoing, the Express-News reported.
Ismael Naveja Macías, the Mexican consul (state representative for Mexico) in Eagle Pass, Texas, later confirmed to Univision-41 that the other three passengers were originally from the Mexican state Zacatecas, according to the outlet. Macías was quoted as saying the accident is “one more example of the risks faced by those who cross irregularly.”
According to Univison-45, the Texas Department of Public Safety had previously expressed concerns that people who illegally smuggle immigrants across borders were using platforms like TikTok and Snapchat to try and lure young people into picking up undocumented Mexican immigrants from a border area before driving them into cities like Houston, Texas.
It was not clear if the agency, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, was suggesting those platforms were somehow involved in this incident.
Chris Olivarez, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety the Rio Grande Sector, reportedly told the station at the time that “Traffickers recruit minors on social media and offer them thousands of dollars to transport immigrants.”
Homeland Security Investigations, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and Salazar’s sister did not immediately respond to requests for comment.