WINNIPEG (AP) – A Florida man was arrested Thursday for human smuggling. Four bodies, including a baby, were discovered in Canada near the U.S. Border. Authorities believe it was a failed attempt to cross during a freezing blizzard.
After seven Indian nationals were discovered in the United States and the discovery of their bodies, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota announced that Steve Shand, 47 was charged with human smuggling.
According to court documents filed Wednesday to support Shand’s arrest, one of the suspects spent significant money to travel to Canada using a fake student visa.
“The investigation into Shand’s death and the investigation into other human smuggling operations are ongoing,” John Stanley, special agent with Homeland Security Investigations stated in court documents.
According to documents, the U.S. Border Patrol stopped a 15-passenger van on Wednesday just south of Canada’s border. Shand was driving, and court documents claim that he was with two Indian nationals.
Court documents also stated that five additional people were seen by law enforcement nearby at the same time. They were Indian nationals and told officers that they had been walking outside for over 11 hours in cold conditions.
During transport to the hospital, a woman experienced difficulty breathing. According to court documents, she will need partial amputation of her right hand. Another man was hospitalized with frostbite, but was released later.
One of the men was carrying a backpack with baby supplies inside. According to court documents, he claimed that the backpack belonged to a separated family that had been separated from the group over night.
Jane MacLatchy, Assistant Commissioner to the RCMP, stated that after Mounties were notified that the family might still be in Manitoba, officers immediately began searching the area.
After a long search through nearly impenetrable terrain, officers located three bodies — a man and a woman, as well as a baby — within 10 meters of the border at Emerson, Man. A teen boy was located a short distance from the border. The search went on and another teen boy was discovered. They died of exposure, it is believed.
MacLatchy stated, “It’s an absolute and heartbreaking loss.”
She said that they were wearing winter clothes, but it wouldn’t have been enough to keep them warm in the freezing temperatures.
MacLatchy said, “These victims faced not just the cold weather, but also endless fields and large snowdrifts, complete darkness.”
Shand was taken into custody Wednesday. According to American authorities, Shand was arrested Wednesday and remains in custody.
Shand was not available for comment immediately.
Officials from both countries stated that crossings into Canada from the U.S. are more common. After the election of Donald Trump, border crossings to Canada by foot increased.
Two men suffered severe frostbite in December after they were caught in a blizzard on their way from the U.S. to Manitoba. A few months later, a woman was killed from hypothermia at the American border.
A pregnant woman was walking across the border in 2019 when she got trapped in a snowbank. She went into labor and was saved.
Emerson-Franklin Reeve Dave Carlson stated that illegal crossings have decreased significantly in the area over recent years. He was shocked to hear about the deaths.
“If you take a look at the political climates on both sides of border, it’s mind-boggling that anyone would feel that desperate to cross in extreme circumstances.
The Kittson County Sheriff’s Office, Minnesota said that Deputy Patrick Klegstad supports the American side. He said that the officers patrol the open fields close to the border daily and that the area where people cross is dangerous, especially in the winter.
“Why they chose that spot to travel would make a million dollars is the million-dollar question.”
Klegstad agreed with Canadian officials that it is not common for people to make the difficult journey from Canada to the U.S.
“It is not often that we have southbounders.”