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Indian family including two children frozen to death in Manitoba near US border

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The bodies of a man, a woman, a teenager, and an infant were found in Manitoba, Canada, on Wednesday in a barren, snow-covered area just feet from the U.S. border, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said.

The bodies appear to have frozen to death while trying to cross into the United States, the police said.

According to authorities, all four have been tentatively recognized as family members who may have been subjects of a human-smuggling operation. Authorities stated their remains were located 30 to 40 feet from the US border in a secluded area six miles east of Emerson, Manitoba.

At a news conference on Thursday, Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said, “It is an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy,” adding that it appeared that all four perished of exposure to the weather.

Investigators believe the four to be victims, she stated.

“We’re very concerned that this attempted crossing may have been facilitated in some way, and that these individuals, including an infant, were left on their own in the middle of a blizzard when the weather hovered around minus 35 degrees Celsius, factoring the wind,” Commissioner MacLatchy added. “These victims faced not only the cold weather, but also endless fields, large snowdrifts and complete darkness.”

According to federal prosecutors in Minnesota, the bodies were discovered after US Border Patrol agents stopped Steve Shand, 47, of Deltona, Fla., while he was steering a 15-passenger van less than one mile south of the Canadian border in a rural area between the official ports of entry at Lancaster, Minn., and Pembina, N.D. He was accused of smuggling humans.

According to law enforcement officials, two of the passengers in Mr. Shand’s leased van were undocumented Indian citizens.

As Mr. Shand was being taken to a Border Patrol station in North Dakota, police officers discovered five more Indian citizens moving in the snow about a quarter-mile south of the Canadian border, in the same direction as to where Mr. Shand was arrested, prosecutors said in a news release.

Prosecutors said the five Indian nationals seemed to be on their way to an unstaffed gas facility in St. Vincent, Minn., and told officers they anticipated being picked up by someone. According to authorities, they claimed to have been trekking for more than 11 hours and had crossed the border from Canada into the United States.

According to court documents, all of the Indian citizens spoke Gujarati, a language spoken in Gujarat on India’s western coast.

According to court documents, one of the group members claimed to be carrying a rucksack for a family of four Indian citizens who had become lost from his group during the night. Children’s clothes, a diaper, toys, and medication were among the items in the backpack.

Snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles were used to conduct a search, which led to the discovery of the four dead in Manitoba.

According to court filings, one of the Indian women who survived the crossing into the United States stopped breathing multiple times while being taken by the Border Patrol. She was airlifted to a hospital, where she will most likely require partial amputation of one of her hands due to the intense cold, according to the records.

Mr. Shand made his first appearance in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on Thursday, when he was ordered to remain in detention until a hearing on Monday, according to prosecutors. It was unclear whether he had retained legal counsel.

A special agent with Homeland Security Investigations said that the four deaths were being looked into “along with an investigation into a larger human smuggling operation of which Shand is suspected.”

According to the complaint, a Border Patrol agent stated that he was aware of three previous smuggling activities that took place near where Mr. Shand was apprehended. According to the lawsuit, two of the incidents occurred in December and one occurred earlier this month.

According to the complaint, one of the Indian citizens seized on Wednesday admitted to paying a “significant amount” of money to enter Canada on a forged student visa.

The man stated that he had crossed the border into the United States and anticipated to be picked up by someone who would transport him to his uncle’s home in Chicago.

Commissioner MacLatchy issued a warning to anyone considering crossing the international border in Manitoba, saying, “Just don’t do it.”

“Do not listen to anyone who tells you they can get you to your destination safely,” she said. “They cannot. Even with proper clothing, it is not a journey that is possible.”

Image Credit: Royal Canadian Mounted Police

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