Four, including infant, found dead near U.S.-Canadian border
According to a release from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the bodies of an adult man, woman and infant were discovered at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The body of another male, believed to be a teenager, was discovered shortly thereafter. All of the victims were located approximately 40 feet from the U.S./Canada border.
EMERSON, MANITOBA – Four people, including an infant, were found dead just north of the Canadian border to the east of Emerson, Manitoba, on Wednesday, Jan. 19. A Florida man has been charged with human smuggling in relation to the incident.
According to a release from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the bodies of an adult man, woman and infant were discovered at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The body of another male, believed to be a teenager, was discovered shortly thereafter. All of the victims were located approximately 40 feet from the U.S.-Canada border on the Canadian side.
Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy, commander of the RCMP in Manitoba, told reporters Thursday the incident is "an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy," the Winnipeg Free Press reported .
According to a Jan. 20 release from the U.S. Department of Justice, Steve Shand, 47, from Florida was arrested after Border Patrol agents stopped a white passenger van about 1 mile south of the border, between the Lancaster, Minnesota and Pembina, North Dakota ports of entry. Agents asked for the identification of the two passengers in the van and found they were undocumented Indian nationals.
As the agents were transporting Shand and the passengers to the Pembina Border Patrol Station, they encountered five additional Indian nationals approximately a quarter mile south of the Canadian border, walking in the direction of where Shand was arrested. They said they had walked across the border expecting to be picked up. Members of the group estimated they had been walking around for over 11 hours.
One person in that group said he was carrying a backpack for a family of four Indian nationals that had earlier walked with his group but had become separated during the night. The backpack contained children’s clothes, a diaper, toys and some medication.
Officers of the RCMP were alerted to a possible situation after agents encountered the group of people who had crossed into the U.S. from Canada near Emerson. Agents informed the RCMP that one of the individuals was carrying items that were meant for an infant, but no infant was with that group.
The RCMP began a search of the area approximately 6 miles east of Emerson shortly after 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, after being alerted by their American counterparts.
According to the release, the four individuals appear to have died from exposure. RCMP officers are working to identify the individuals, and autopsies have been scheduled to confirm the cause of death.
Temperatures around northwest Minnesota and near Emerson were frigid late Tuesday into early Wednesday, with highs below zero on Wednesday. Temperatures were as low as minus-13 Fahrenheit without wind chill.
The dead bodies were tentatively identified as the family of four that was separated from the other group. Two of the surviving Indian nationals sustained serious injuries and were transported to a hospital.
In an updated release Thursday night, RCMP said a thorough grid search was done of the area and no other victims were found. No further information is available at this time, the RCMP said.
The RCMP is investigating the incident in collaboration with U.S. Customs and Border agents, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Shand is suspected of being a part of a larger human smuggling operation, according to a court document filed with the U.S. District Court in Minnesota.
The investigation into this, and the deaths of the four people in Canada, is ongoing. According to court documents, one of the Indian nationals reportedly said that he paid a “significant amount of money to enter Canada from India under a fraudulently obtained student visa.” The Indian national did not intend to study in Canada, but to enter the U.S. illegally, the court document said.
According to the court document, Shand had apparently rented a van from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Monday, Jan. 17. It appears he made a stop at a Walmart in Fargo on Tuesday, Jan. 18; a receipt was found in the vehicle with the drinks and snacks that were found inside.
When he was arrested on Wednesday he was driving in a rural area on a first road away from other services, homes or ports of entry into Canada, according to the court document. He was also driving through blowing snow and snow drifts. The court document says weather was “severe at the time with high winds, blowing snow and temperatures well below zero.” The area is also known by border patrol as “a high incident area for human smuggling,” the document said.
Recently, there have been three separate incidents of human smuggling that occurred at the same location where Shand was arrested, the court document said. Authorities had observed boot prints in the snow made by three people who had walked across the border at the location on Jan. 12. The boot prints apparently matched the same brand of boots being worn by the seven foreign nationals who were taken into custody when Shand was arrested.
Two other human smuggling incidents also apparently occurred in December 2021.
Court documents say a woman who was arrested in the incident stopped breathing several times while in custody and may need to have part of her hand amputated due to frostbite.
Authorities also found a receipt from the La Quinta hotel in Grand Forks, dated Jan. 11, indicating this may not have been Shand's first time in the area.
In a news release sent by U.S. Border Patrol on Thursday evening, Grand Forks Sector Chief Patrol Agent Anthony S. Good said he was saddened by the deaths.
“I am saddened there was loss of life and the fact a small child died makes it even more difficult. Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones,” Good said in a statement, adding he was "incredibly proud" of the agents and RCMP partners who searched in the cold for the missing persons.
He added that "anyone thinking of crossing the border illegally in these treacherous conditions should not do it.”
“Smugglers only care about the money they are going to make and have zero regard for lives lost,” he said in a statement.
— The Winnipeg Free Press contributed to this story.