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Indian Family Of four Frozen To Death Along US-Canada Border; Florida Man Charged For Human Smuggling

US officials say the dead are believed to be a family from India. They are thought to have been attempting to cross into the US

Updated: January 22, 2022 1:20 AM IST

By News Desk | Edited by Sanstuti Nath

Indian Family Of four Frozen To Death Along US-Canada Border; Florida Man Charged For Human Smuggling
A boundary marker marks the US/Canada border March 2, 2017, in Estcourt, Maine. On the one side of the marker is Estcourt and one the other side is Pohenegamook, Quebec. (Photo/AFP)

Toronto: In a heartbreaking tragedy, a family of four, including a baby died from exposure to cold weather on the Canadian side of the border with the US in an apparent human smuggling operation, according to media reports. Among the dead bodies found by Manitoba Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on the Canadian side of the US-Canada border near Emerson on Wednesday, there were two adults- a man and a woman, a teen and an infant, and all belonged to an Indian Gujarati family, reported news agency IANS.

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They were part of a group of people being smuggled into the US from Canada as part of a wider human smuggling operation and died due to frostbites. The RCMP said its officers launched search operations after they were told by the US Customs and Border Protection about the arrest of a group of people who had crossed into the US from Canada.

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Earlier, US officials said the dead are believed to be a family from India. They are thought to have been attempting to cross into the US, according to media reports. The US agents told the RCMP that they have stopped a 15-passenger van about 1 km inside the US from the international border near Emerson, and found two undocumented Indian nationals (Gujaratis) in it. US officials said that one of the apprehended adults was carrying items intended for a baby, but there was no infant with the group.

An immediate search began on both sides of the border, and by that afternoon, the bodies of an adult man, an adult woman, and an infant were found. The body of a boy believed to be in his mid-teens was found shortly afterwards.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy shared the discovery with reporters in a news conference on Thursday. “What I am about to share is going to be difficult for many people to hear,” she said, calling it “an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy”.

“At this very early stage of the investigation, it appears that they all died due to exposure to the cold weather,” MacLatchy said, adding RCMP believe the four people are connected to the group that was apprehended on the US side of the border.

She said all four were located within 9-12 metres of the border. MacLatchy said that the group was “on their own in the middle of a blizzard” and “faced not only the cold weather but endless fields, large snowdrifts and complete darkness”.

Police are referring to them as victims, as there are concerns the group’s attempted border crossing was facilitated in some way, and that they were left out in the extreme cold, Global News reported.

Meanwhile, The US Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota issued a release late Thursday afternoon and said 47-year-old Steve Shand of Florida had been arrested and charged with human smuggling in connection with the incident. At the same time, five more Indians — all Gujarati speaking — were arrested not far from where the van was stopped by the US border agents.

Shand was driving with two passengers determined to be undocumented foreign nationals from India, according to the release.

Inside the vehicle, officers found cases of plastic cups, bottled water, bottled juice and snacks in the van. As they were taking the trio back to the border patrol station in North Dakota, officers came across another group of five Indian nationals walking.

They said they had walked across the border and had expected to be picked up by someone. The group said they estimated they had been walking for more than 11 hours, the report added.

One person in the group had a backpack he told officials he was carrying for a family of four they had become separated from that contained children’s items such as clothes, a diaper and a toy. The bodies have been tentatively identified as that family of four, the release from the US Attorney’s Office said.

The RCMP said it is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In a statement, the Canada Border Services Agency said it is also working with law enforcement partners, as well as its American counterparts, on the investigation.

The office of the Minister of Public Safety said in a statement: We are shocked and saddened by the tragic deaths of four people attempting to cross the Canada-US border, near Emerson, Manitoba. We extend our most heartfelt condolences to their loved ones, and our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.

(With inputs from PTI, IANS)

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Published Date: January 21, 2022 8:23 PM IST

Updated Date: January 22, 2022 1:20 AM IST