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4 dead in brutal cold at US border believed to be victims of human trafficking

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4 dead in brutal cold at US border believed to be victims of human trafficking

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The bodies were found Wednesday in barren, snowy terrain just yards from the US border in Manitoba, Canada: a man, woman, teenage boy and baby who appeared to have frozen to death as they attempted to cross United States. , according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

All four have been tentatively identified as family members who may have been victims of a human trafficking operation, authorities said. Their bodies were discovered about 30 to 40 feet from the U.S. border, in a remote area six miles east of Emerson, Manitoba, authorities said.

“This is an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy,” Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told a news conference on Thursday, adding that it appeared all four had died of exposure to the cold.

She pointed out that investigators consider the four to be victims.

“We are very concerned that this attempted crossing may have been facilitated in some way and that these people, including a baby, were left to their own devices in the middle of a blizzard so that the weather was hovering around minus 35 degrees Celsius, taking into account the wind,” Commissioner MacLatchy said. “These victims had to deal not only with the cold, but also with endless fields, large snowdrifts and total darkness.”

The bodies were found after US Border Patrol officers arrested Steve Shand, 47, of Deltona, Fla., on Wednesday while driving a 15-passenger van less than a mile south of the border Canadian in a rural area between official ports. entry to Lancaster, Minnesota, and Pembina, ND, Minnesota federal prosecutors said. He was charged with human trafficking.

Law enforcement officials said two passengers in the rental van Mr Shand was driving were undocumented Indian citizens.

As Mr. Shand and his passengers were taken to a border patrol station in North Dakota, law enforcement officers found five other Indian citizens walking in the snow about a quarter of a mile south of the Canadian border, towards where Mr. Shand was arrested, prosecutors said.

The five Indian nationals appeared to be heading to an unmanned gas plant in St. Vincent, Minnesota, and told law enforcement officials they expected to be picked up by someone, said the prosecutors. They said they walked for more than 11 hours and crossed the Canada-US border, prosecutors said.

All five wore identical winter clothing, including fur-trimmed hoods, black gloves, black balaclavas and insulated rubber boots, according to court documents. Mr. Shand had a set of the same black gloves and the same black balaclava.

All Indian citizens spoke Gujarati, a language spoken in Gujarat on India’s west coast, according to court documents.

A member of the group said he was carrying a backpack for a family of four Indian citizens who became separated from his group overnight, according to court documents. Inside the backpack were children’s clothes, a diaper, toys and children’s medicine.

Canadian authorities then began a search with snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles which led to the discovery of the four bodies in Manitoba.

An Indian woman in the group who survived the crossing to the United States repeatedly stopped breathing while being transported by Border Patrol, court documents show. She was airlifted to hospital where she will likely have to have one of her hands partially amputated due to exposure to extreme cold, the documents say.

Prosecutors said Mr. Shand made his first appearance Thursday in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, where he was ordered to remain in custody until a hearing on Monday. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.

In a criminal complaint, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations said the four deaths were being investigated “along with an investigation into a larger human trafficking operation of which Shand is suspected to be a part. “.

According to the complaint, a Border Patrol agent said he was aware of three other smuggling operations that took place at the same location where Mr Shand was arrested. Two were in December and one earlier this month, according to the complaint.

The complaint says one of the Indian citizens detained on Wednesday said he paid a “significant sum” of money to enter Canada from India on a fraudulently obtained student visa.

The man said he had crossed the border into the United States and expected to be picked up by someone to take him to his uncle in Chicago.

Commissioner MacLatchy said she had a message for anyone considering crossing the international border into Manitoba: “Don’t.

“Don’t listen to anyone who tells you they can get you to your destination safely,” she said. “They can’t. Even with proper clothing, it’s not a possible trip.

Christine Chung contributed report.

4 dead in brutal cold at US border believed to be victims of human trafficking

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