4 People Including Teen and Baby Freeze to Death Crossing Border, DOJ Charges Florida Man for Human Smuggling

RCMP at Canadian-U.S. Border;Grand Forks County Correctional Center in North Dakota. Steve Shand.
RCMP and Grand Forks County Correctional Facility, North Dakota

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said it's believed they died from exposure while trying to cross into the U.S.  

A Florida man was charged with human smuggling after four people, including a teenager and a baby, were found dead near the Canadian – U.S border. Authorities believe that all four people froze to death during a blizzard, CBS News reported.

Steve Shand, 47, the driver of the vehicle, was charged with one count of knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien had come to, entered, or remained in the United States in violation of law, having transported, and moved or having attempted to transport and move such clients, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

On Thursday, Shand made his first appearance before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer for the District of Minnesota. Shand was ordered to remain in custody pending a preliminary and detention hearing that is scheduled for Jan 24. at 3:00 p.m., according to court documents, the DOJ said.

On Wednesday, authorities say Shand, who was driving a white-colored, 15-passenger van, was stopped by law enforcement agents with Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP). He was less than one mile south of the U.S. – Canadian border in a rural area between the official ports of entry located at Lancaster, Minnesota, and Pembina, North Dakota. When the agent asked Shand for identification of the two passengers in the van, they determined them to be undocumented Indian nationals, according to the DOJ. 

Officials also discovered receipts dated January 18, 2022, for the drinks and snacks, and rental agreement receipts in Shand’s name for the van, with the return date listed for January 20, 2022, the DOJ said. 

At that point, USBP arrested Shand for smuggling undocumented foreign nationals, according to authorities. 

While Shand and the two passengers were being transported to the Pembina Border Patrol Station in North Dakota, law enforcement encountered five additional Indian nationals approximately a quarter-mile south of the Canadian border walking in the direction of where Shand was arrested, says the DOJ statement. 

The five Indian nationals explained that they had walked across the border expecting to be picked up by someone and that they were headed to a gas plant at St. Vincent, Minnesota, that was reportedly unstaffed, according to court documents. 

Authorities say the group of nationals estimated they had been walking for over 11 hours. One of the people in the group had a backpack that wasn’t his, telling officials that he was carrying the backpack for a family of four Indian nationals that had been with his group earlier, but became separated during the night, per the DOJ.

According to officials, the backpack contained children’s clothes, a diaper, toys, and some children’s medication.

On Wednesday, the USBP received a report from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that four bodies were found frozen just inside the Canadian side of the international border. The dead bodies were tentatively identified as the family of four that was separated. Two of the surviving Indian nationals sustained serious injuries and were transported to a hospital, according to court documents. 

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said it's believed they died from exposure while trying to cross into the U.S, CBS News reported. 

Minnesota was under a wind chill advisory Tuesday night into Wednesday. Temperatures in northern Minnesota were as cold as 29 degrees below zero, WCCO CBS Minnesota reported.

"It is an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy," Manitoba RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said

MacLatchy said that U.S. authorities had notified RCMP on Wednesday about a different group of people who had been apprehended after crossing into the U.S. near the town of Emerson, about 40 feet away from the U.S. border, the DOJ said. 

The group, she said, had items for an infant but no baby was with them.

She said this prompted the RCMP to search the area for others who may be missing.  All-terrain vehicles were used in the deep and drifting snow, in conditions that appeared dire.

During the search, the DOJ says officers located three bodies together — a man, a woman, and a baby — about 10 yards from the border. The teen boy was found a short distance away.

“All victims were located 9 to 12 meters from the border. At this very early stage of investigating it appears they all died from exposure to cold weather,” MacLatchy said. 

”These victims faced not only the cold weather but also endless fields, large snowdrifts, and complete darkness," she said.

MacLatchy said others are often involved in arranging to bring people across the border, which is criminal and extremely dangerous. In the past, it has been more common to see crossings north from the U.S. into Canada, CBS News reported.

Since 2016, following the election of former President Donald Trump, border crossings into Canada on foot increased, the news outlet reported. 

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said that officers continued to search for additional survivors or victims Wednesday night into Thursday.

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