PALMVIEW, Texas (Reuters) - A 15-year-old boy was charged with nine counts of murder in juvenile court on Monday after he lost control of a minivan crammed with illegal immigrants, police said.
The boy, whose name was not released because of his age, told police that human smugglers threatened to kill his family if he did not take the wheel of a van that rolled over on U.S. Highway 83 on April 10 in Palmview, Texas, said Chris Barrera, the city's police chief.
The boy, a U.S. citizen, is among six others from the United States and Mexico who face immigrant harboring charges in U.S. District Court, Barrera said. Seventeen illegal immigrants were in the van when it rolled over after Border Patrol agents pursued it, he said.
The boy fled the scene of the wreck Tuesday night, Barrera said. Police arrested him at his South Texas home on Thursday.
The boy cried when a juvenile judge charged him Monday with nine counts of murder, 17 counts of human smuggling causing serious bodily injury or death and one count of evading arrest, said Saul Valle, a Palmview police detective.
"He said that if he didn't do it they were going to kill his family," Valle said.
Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra said he wants to try the suspect as an adult to "send a message."
"He didn't have to run," Guerra said.
All nine illegal immigrants killed in the wreck are from Mexico, Barrera said. Their intended destinations included Houston, Atlanta and New York, according to a complaint filed in federal court.
Editing By Corrie MacLaggan and Doina Chiacu