Man charged after four found dead at Canada-US border
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP):
A Florida man was charged Thursday with human smuggling after the bodies of four people, including a baby and a teen, were found in Canada near the US border in what authorities believe was a failed crossing attempt during a freezing blizzard.
The United States (US) Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota said Steve Shand, 47, has been charged with human smuggling after seven Indian nationals were found in the US and after the discovery of the bodies.
Court documents filed Wednesday in support of Shand’s arrest allege one of the people spent a significant amount of money to come to Canada with a fraudulent student visa.
“The investigation into the death of the four individuals in Canada is ongoing along with an investigation into a larger human smuggling operation, of which Shand is suspected of being a part,” John Stanley, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, said in court documents.
According to documents, a US Border Patrol in North Dakota stopped a 15-passenger van just south of the Canadian border on Wednesday. Shand was driving and court documents allege he was with two undocumented Indian nationals.
Around the same time, court documents said five other people were spotted by law enforcement in the snow nearby. The group, who were also Indian nationals, told officers they’d been walking for more than 11 hours outside in frigid conditions.
A woman stopped breathing several times as she was transported to hospital. Court documents said she will require partial amputation of her hand. A man was also hospitalised for frostbite but was later released.
One of the men in the group was carrying a backpack that had baby supplies in it. Court documents said he told officers it belonged to a family who had become separated from the group overnight.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy told a news conference in Winnipeg Thursday that, once Mounties were notified the family may still be in Manitoba, officers immediately began to search the area.
After a difficult search in nearly impassible terrain, she said officers found three bodies together – a man, a woman and a baby – just 10 metres from the border near Emerson, Manitoba. The search continued and a teen boy was found a short distance away. It is believed they died from exposure.
“It is an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy,” MacLatchy said.
They were wearing winter clothing, she said, but it would not have been enough to save them with the freezing conditions.
“These victims faced not only the cold weather but also endless fields, large snowdrifts and complete darkness,” MacLatchy added.
Shand was arrested Wednesday and remains in custody. American authorities allege in court documents that Shand has likely been involved in other border crossings, including two recent incidents in December.
Shand could not be immediately reached for comment.
Officials in both countries said it is more common to see crossings north from the US into Canada. Border crossings into Canada on foot increased in 2016 following the election of former US President Donald Trump.