Family That Froze Trying to Cross Border Identified

Family from India included boy, 3, and girl, 11
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 21, 2022 6:20 AM CST
Updated Jan 28, 2022 4:08 AM CST
4, Including Baby, Freeze to Death in Attempt to Enter US
A border marker, between the United States and Canada, is shown just outside of Emerson, Manitoba, on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022.   (John Woods/The Canadian Press via AP)

(Newser) Update: The four people who died of exposure while trying to walk into the US from Canada during a blizzard last week have been identified as a family from India. Investigators believe smugglers brought Jagdish Patel, 39; Vaishailben Patel, 37; and their children, 11-year-old girl Vihang and and 3-year-old boy Dharkmik, to the border area, the CBC reports. Manitoba RCMP Chief Supt. Rob Hill said authorities initially described the children as a baby and a teenage boy, but confirmation was difficult because of the "frozen state in which the bodies were found." Steve Shand, a Florida man charged with human smuggling, was released on bond earlier this week. He was arrested on the US side of the border. He was with other Indian citizens who said they had walked for 11 hours. Our original story from Jan. 20 follows:

A tragedy on the Canadian border: The Mounties say four people, including a baby and a teenager, froze to death after trying to walk into the US from Canada during a blizzard. The bodies were found Wednesday in a snow-covered field just steps from the border in Emerson, Manitoba, the Winnipeg Free Press reports. The group, believed to be undocumented immigrants from India, had apparently tried to make the crossing at a time when temperatures had dropped to -31 Fahrenheit, including wind chill, reports the Guardian. "These individuals, including an infant, were left on their own in the middle of a blizzard," Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy, commander of the RCMP in Manitoba, told reporters Thursday.

"These victims faced not only the cold weather but endless fields, large snowdrifts, and complete darkness," said MacLatchy, who described the deaths as "an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy." The bodies were found after the arrest of a Florida man in Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports. Authorities say two unauthorized immigrants from India were found in a 15-person van driven by 47-year-old Steve Shand. Five others were taken into custody around a quarter-mile south of the border; they were headed in Shand's direction and said someone was supposed to pick them up. American officials notified their Canadian counterparts after they found items including diapers, toys, and children's medication in one person's backpack, though there was no baby with the group, reports the CBC.

The person with the backpack told authorities that it belonged to a family that had become separated from the group during the overnight crossing. One member of the group, who told authorities they had been walking for around 11 hours, may need to have a frostbitten hand amputated. Shand, who allegedly rented the van on Monday from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, faces a federal charge of human smuggling. Authorities, who suspect Shand is part of a larger smuggling ring, say this was his second trip to the border area this month. MacLatchy urged anybody considering making a similar border crossing to think again. "Do not listen to anyone who tells you they can get you to your destination safely. They cannot," she said. "Even with proper clothing it is not a journey that is possible." (Read more human smuggling stories.)

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