ST PAUL, Minn. — Federal authorities in Minnesota charged a Florida man on Thursday with human smuggling at the U.S.-Canada border, in a case that investigators said was related to the discovery of four dead bodies in sub-zero temperatures this week.
A criminal complaint signed by Homeland Security Special Agent John Stanley indicated that 47-year-old Steve Shand, a naturalized citizen originally from Jamaica, is also suspected in “an investigation into a larger human smuggling operation.”
Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Manitoba told KARE 11 in a phone interview that a man, woman, teenage boy and infant were found Wednesday afternoon east of Emerson, Manitoba, on the Canadian side of the border where North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota converge.
The four people, believed to be part of the same family, appear to have died from exposure to the dangerously cold weather and had come within about 30 feet of the U.S. border. The wind chill was around -40 degrees Celsius, MacLatchy said, which is so cold that it’s the equivalent temperature to Fahrenheit.
“It was very deep snow, blowing and whiteout conditions,” MacLatchy said. “It’s tragic these folks passed away in the circumstances they did.”
Canadian authorities have not released the victim’s names or identities.
On Thursday, however, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota’s announcement of an arrest and charges against Steve Shand provided more details about what may have happened to the four people found dead on the Canadian side of the border.
Documents indicate that Shand hails from Deltona, Fla., northeast of Orlando, almost 2,000 miles away from the site of his detainment.
According to the complaint and a news release from U.S. Border Patrol, agents arrested Shand on the American side of the border on Wednesday on Highway 75 in Humboldt, Minn., and he was found to have two Indian nationals in a white 15-passenger van that Shand rented from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Five other natives of India were then found walking in the same area where authorities arrested Shand, and the Border Patrol sector in Grand Forks, N.D. said agents called for immediate medical aid due to signs of hypothermia and frostbite.
In total, six of the Indian nationals were eventually transported to the Border Patrol station in Pembina, while another was airlifted to a hospital in St. Paul due to injuries sustained in the cold weather.
“I learned that all the foreign nationals spoke Gujarati, a language spoken in Gujarat in western India,” Agent Stanley wrote in the complaint. “Most had limited or no English language speaking ability.”
In an interview with investigators, one of the natives of India – identified in the complaint as V.D. – said they had “walked across the border expecting to be picked up by someone on the U.S. side,” and that they’d been “walking around for approximately 11.5 hours.”
V.D., investigators said, had a backpack with children’s clothes and medication in his possession, which he told them he was carrying for a family “that had become separated” from the rest of the group overnight.
American authorities then informed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that a family of four was possibly wandering in the frigid, rough terrain.
“Of course, this raised the alarm,” Assistant Commissioner MacLatchy said. “We got very concerned there were still people left somewhere in the frontier and the situation was dire.”
That’s when authorities found the four dead bodies – three of them together in the same spot, with the teenage boy found just a short distance away.
MacLatchy said it’s somewhat unusual to see people from Canada crossing into the U.S. outside of normal border stations. Typically, she said, the crossings are made from the U.S. to Canada.
In this case, the criminal complaint contained information from one of the Indian natives, who said “he paid a significant amount of money to enter Canada from India under a fraudulently obtained student visa. He did not intend to study in Canada but rather to illegally enter the United States. He had crossed the border into the United States on foot and had expected to be picked up by an individual who would drive him to his uncle’s residence in Chicago.”
Steve Shand, meanwhile, made his first federal court appearance on Thursday and remains in custody until his next hearing on Jan. 24.
During a news conference earlier Thursday, Assistant Commissioner MacLatchy said that the discovery of the four bodies was news that “is going to be difficult for many people to hear.”
“It is an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy,” she said, “and I offer my condolences and those of the RCMP, to every family member and loved one who is affected by this tragedy.”
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