The bodies were found Wednesday in a barren snowy area just a few feet from the US border in Manitoba, Canada: men, women, a teenager and an infant who appeared to have frozen to death while trying to cross the United States border. This is reported by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Authorities said all four were tentatively identified as family members who may have been victims of a human-smuggling operation. Their bodies were found about 30 to 40 feet from the US border, in a remote area six miles east of Emerson, Manitoba, authorities said.
“This is an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner Jane McLatchy said at a press conference on Thursday, adding that all four died of cold.
She stressed that investigators consider four victims.
“We are very concerned that this crossing attempt could have been facilitated in some way, and that these people, including the baby, were left alone in the middle of a snowstorm when the weather hovered around minus 35 degrees Celsius, taking into account the wind,” the commissioner said. McLatchy. “These victims faced not only cold, but also endless fields, large snowdrifts and total darkness.”
The bodies were found after U.S. Border Patrol agents stopped Florida-based Steve Shand, 47, on Wednesday as he was driving a van with 15 passengers less than one mile south of the Canadian border in the countryside between the official ports of entry in Lancaster, U.S. Minnesota, and Pembina, North Dakota, Minnesota federal prosecutors said. He was accused of human smuggling.
Law enforcement officials said the two passengers in the rented van driven by Mr Shand were undocumented Indian citizens.
While Mr. Shand and his passengers were being driven to a border patrol post in North Dakota, law enforcement officers found five other Indians walking in the snow about a quarter of a mile south of the Canadian border, in the direction where Mr. Shand was. was arrested, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said the five Indian nationals were apparently on their way to an understaffed gas plant in St. Vincent, Minnesota, and told law enforcement officials they expected someone to pick them up. They walked for more than 11 hours and crossed the border from Canada into the United States, prosecutors said.
One member of the group said he had a backpack for a family of four Indian citizens who separated from his group at night, court documents say. Inside the backpack were baby clothes, a diaper, toys, and baby medicine.
Canadian authorities then launched searches using snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles that led to the discovery of four bodies in Manitoba.
Court documents showed that one Indian woman in the group who survived the crossing to the United States stopped breathing several times while she was being transported by border patrol. The documents say she was taken to a hospital where she will likely need a partial amputation of one arm due to the extreme cold.
Prosecutors said Mr Shand made his first appearance Thursday in US District Court for the District of Minnesota, where he was ordered to remain in custody until Monday’s hearing. It was not immediately clear whether he had a lawyer.
In a criminal complaint, a special agent for the National Security Investigation Division said the four deaths were being investigated “along with an investigation into a larger human smuggling operation that Shand is suspected of participating in.”
According to the complaint, the border guard agent said he was aware of three other smuggling operations that took place at the same location where Mr. Shand was arrested. According to the complaint, two cases were in December and one was earlier this month.
The complaint says one of the Indian citizens detained on Wednesday said he paid a “substantial amount” of money to enter Canada from India on a fraudulently obtained student visa.
The man said he crossed the border into the United States and expected to be picked up by someone who would take him to his uncle’s house in Chicago.
Commissioner McLatchy said she had a message for anyone thinking about crossing an international border in Manitoba: “Just don’t do it.”
“Don’t listen to anyone who tells you they can get you safely to your destination,” she said. “They can’t. Even with the proper clothes, such a journey is impossible.”
Christine Chang made a report.