EMERSON, Manitoba — A Florida man is accused of human smuggling after four people, including an infant, were found dead just north of the U.S.-Canadian border in Manitoba on Wednesday, authorities said.
Steve Shand, 47, is charged with one count of human smuggling in connection with the incident, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota.
According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the bodies of an adult man, woman and infant were discovered Wednesday, the Duluth News-Tribune reported. The body of another male, believed to be a teenager, was discovered moments later, the newspaper reported.
All of the victims were located approximately 40 feet from the U.S.-Canada border on the Canadian side, the News-Tribune reported. The victims are believed to have died from exposure to the freezing weather while attempting to walk across the border from Canada to the U.S., CBC reported.
“What I am about to share is going to be difficult for many people to hear,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said during a news conference on Thursday. “It is an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy.
“These individuals, including an infant, were left on their own in the middle of a blizzard when the weather hovered around minus-35 (with the wind chill),” MacLatchy added. “These victims faced not only the cold weather but endless fields, large snowdrifts and complete darkness.”
Before the bodies were found, U.S. Border Patrol officers had stopped a 15-passenger van just south of the international border in a rural area between the official points of entry at Lancaster, Minnesota, and Pembina, North Dakota, according to the news outlet.
Shand was driving with two passengers who were determined to be undocumented foreign nationals from India, Acting U.S. Attorney Charles J. Kovats stated in the U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.
As the agents were transporting Shand and the passengers to the border patrol station at Pembina, they encountered five more Indian nationals, the News-Tribune reported. Agents said the people were approximately a quarter-mile south of the Canadian border, walking in the direction of where Shand was arrested. According to the agents, the five people said they had been walking for approximately 11 hours and expected to be picked up when they crossed the border, the newspaper reported.
The dead were tentatively identified as the family of four that was separated from the other group, the News-Tribune reported. Two of the surviving Indian nationals sustained serious injuries and were transported to an area hospital.
Shand made a court appearance on Thursday and was ordered to remain in custody pending a preliminary and detention hearing, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He is scheduled to appear in court on Monday, according to the release.
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