A Florida man was charged with human smuggling after four people, including a baby and a teenager, were found dead Wednesday during an alleged border crossing into the United States from Canada.
On Wednesday morning, U.S. Border Patrol stopped a rented white, 15-passenger van in a rural area between Lancaster, Minnesota, and Pembina, North Dakota, near the U.S. side of the border, shortly before arresting 47-year-old driver Steve Shand, a U.S. citizen from Florida. Two undocumented Indian nationals were found in the car, which had cases of plastic cups, bottled water, bottled juice, and snacks in the trunk, according to a DOJ release.
When Shand and the two passengers were being escorted by authorities, law enforcement found a group of five Indian nationals nearby.
The group of five people had travelled for nearly 11 hours and crossed the Canadian border near the town of Emerson, Manitoba, during frigid conditions. One of the adults had a backpack that was filled with baby items—clothes, a diaper, toys, and children’s medication—but there was no baby among the five. The group told authorities the backpack belonged to a family of four who had originally walked with them but had been separated overnight.
“A search was immediately launched on both sides of the border,” an RCMP statement says.
It took officers about four hours to locate the bodies of two adults and an infant who were located about 12 metres (40 feet) from the U.S. border. The body of a teenage male was found nearby shortly after. It’s presumed all four people froze to death, but RCMP is awaiting an autopsy to confirm the cause of death and the victims’ identities. At the time, the region was in the midst of a severe cold snap and blizzard, with temperatures hitting -35 C (-31 F).
“We have completed a thorough grid search of the area and thankfully we did not locate any further victims,” Manitoba RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Julie Courchaine confirmed to VICE World News.
Two members of the group that made it across the border, a man and a woman, sustained serious injuries and were transported to hospital. According to the Globe and Mail, they both suffered frostbite and the woman’s hand was partially amputated.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy told reporters anyone thinking about crossing the border in Manitoba should think twice because it’s impossible to do so safely.
"Even with proper clothing, it is not a journey that is possible,” MacLatchy said. "I do understand that for some there may be a great need to get to another country, but this is not the way. You will be risking your life and the lives of the people you care about if you try it.”
"These individuals, including an infant, were left on their own in the middle of a blizzard when the weather hovered around –35," she said. "These victims faced not only the cold weather but also endless fields, large snowdrifts, and complete darkness.”
Typically, cases involved asylum seekers traveling north from the U.S., making the latest tragic case “unusual,” the Globe reported.
Shand, who is charged with human smuggling, made his first court appearance on Wednesday and is currently in custody awaiting his second court appearance on Jan. 24.
The RCMP is investigating further with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Canada Border Services Agency confirmed it’s also investigating.
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