4 people, including baby and teen, appear to freeze to death near US-Canada border; Florida man charged with people smuggling
A Florida man was charged with people smuggling on Thursday after the bodies of four people, including a baby and a teenager, were found in Canada near the US border in what authorities say was a failed attempt at crossing during a freezing snowstorm.
The United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota said Steve Shand, 47, appeared in court Thursday.
The bodies were found Wednesday in the province of Manitoba about 40 feet from the US border near the township of Emerson. The office said the dead were a family of four Indian nationals who had been separated from others in a group that had crossed the border.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said they believed they died from exposure while attempting to enter the United States
“It is an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy,” said RCMP Deputy Commissioner Jane MacLatchy.
Minnesota was under a wind chill advisory Tuesday night through Wednesday, CBS Minnesota reported. During that time, perceived temperatures in northern Minnesota were as cold as 29 degrees below zero.
MacLatchy said U.S. authorities briefed RCMP on Wednesday about another group of people who were arrested after entering the U.S. near the town of Emerson, Manitoba. The group had items for a toddler, but there was no baby.
This led authorities to believe that others might have gone missing, and the RCMP immediately began searching Canada. MacLatchy said the search covered difficult terrain with deep and driving snow. Officers used ATVs to get around because it was “virtually impassable.”
Officials found three bodies together – a man, a woman and a baby – about 10 meters from the border. The search continued and a teenager was found not far away.
A search for possible survivors or additional victims continued Wednesday night and officers were still patrolling the area Thursday, RCMP said.
“These victims were not only exposed to the cold weather, but also to endless fields, big snowdrifts and total darkness,” she said.
MacLatchy said others are often involved in getting people across the border, which is criminal and extremely dangerous. In the past, it’s been more common to see crossings from the US north to Canada, she added.
Walking border crossings into Canada increased in 2016 following the election of former US President Donald Trump.
In December of this year, two men lost their fingers to severe frostbite after getting caught in a snowstorm en route from the United States to Manitoba. A few months later, a woman near the border on the American side died of hypothermia.
In 2019, a pregnant woman crossing the border was rescued after becoming trapped in a snowdrift and going into labor.
Emerson-Franklin’s Reeve, Dave Carlson, said cases of people crossing the border outside of the checkpoint have dropped significantly in recent years. He was surprised to learn of the four deaths.
“If you look at the political climate on both sides of the border, it’s just amazing to me that anyone had this sense of desperation trying to cross it under extreme conditions,” he said.
It’s been extremely cold and windy for the past few days, Carlson said. The area where the bodies were found is far enough away that people wouldn’t see city lights, he said, and it would be easy to get lost.
The RCMP said it is working with US Customs and Border Protection and the US Department of Homeland Security.
Deputy Patrick Klegstad of the Kittson County Minnesota Sheriff’s Office said his department supports the American side of the investigation. His officers patrol the “bleak” open fields near the border every day, he said.
“Why they chose this place to travel would be the million dollar question,” he said.
The weather this week has been so cold it “takes your breath away,” Klegstad said. There are no trees or shelters near the border, just quiet and inaccessible farm roads.
Klegstad, echoing Canadian officials, said it was unusual for people to make the harrowing journey from Canada to the United States. “It’s not very often that we have southern borders.”
Mounties warned that people should not attempt to cross the border in either direction outside of a checkpoint as it can be deadly.
“I am saddened that people have died and the fact that a young child has died makes it even more difficult,” Grand Forks Chief Patrol Agent Anthony S. Good said in a statement. “Our hearts are with the families and loved ones. I am also incredibly proud of the border guards and ours [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] Partners who selflessly endure sub-zero temperatures for hours to search for the missing. Her diligence and courage are commendable.”