Florida man charged with human smuggling after four bodies found near Canada-U.S. border
A Florida man has been charged with human smuggling after the bodies of four people, including a baby, were found in Manitoba near the Canada-U.S. border.
According to the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota, 47-year-old Steve Shand was arrested on Wednesday by U.S. Border Patrol for smuggling undocumented foreign nationals.
The charges against him have not been proven in court.
The United States Attorney's Office said, on Wednesday U.S. Border Patrol stopped Shand, who was driving a white-coloured, fifteen-passenger van in a rural area less than two kilometres south of the border. The release alleges there were two undocumented people in the van.
According to a release from the United States Attorney's Office, while Shand and the two passengers were being taken to the Pembina Border Patrol Station in North Dakota, five more people were found just south of the border walking in the direction of where Shand had been arrested.
The release said the five people told officers they had crossed the border expecting to be picked up by someone.
The release said one of the members of the group was carrying a backpack with children’s clothes, a diaper, toys, and some children’s medication inside. The release said the man told officers he had been carrying the backpack for a family of four that had walked with the group earlier but became separated during the night.
Mounties in Manitoba received this information shortly after 9:20 a.m. on Wednesday, and began searching the area.
Manitoba RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said at around 1:30 p.m. officers found the bodies of three people on the Canadian side of the border about 10 kilometres east of Emerson.
She said the bodies included an adult man and woman, and an infant. A fourth body, a boy believed to be in his mid-teens, was found a short while later, she said.
"The dead bodies were tentatively identified as the family of four that was separated," the release from the United States Attorney's Office said.
RCMP said all four bodies were found about 40 feet from the border.
"At this very early stage of the investigation, it appears that they all died due to exposure to the cold weather," MacLatchy said, adding RCMP believe the four people are connected to the group that was apprehended on the U.S. side of the border.
MacLatchy said the RCMP investigators are working closely with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
She said it will take time to identify the names, ages and nationalities of the four people, adding an autopsy has been scheduled to confirm the cause of death. At this point, MacLatchy said investigators do not know how these four people got to Emerson.
"We are very concerned this attempted crossing may have been facilitated in some way and that these individuals, including an infant, were left on their own in the middle of a blizzard when the weather hovered around -35C factoring in the wind," she said.
"These victims faced not only the cold weather, but also endless fields, large snowdrifts and complete darkness."
MacLatchy said in past attempted border crossings, RCMP has seen organized groups involved.
RCMP said officers continued to search the area Thursday for any more potential victims, but none were found.
MacLatchy said due to very difficult terrain and deep snowdrifts, RCMP required all-terrain vehicles in the search.
"I also have a message to anyone who is thinking of crossing the border in Manitoba, either heading south or north – just don't do it," MacLatchy said. "Do not listen to anyone who tells you they can get you to your destination safely. They cannot."
MacLatchy said she understands some may have a great need to get to another country, but said this is not the way to do it.
"You will be risking your life and the lives of the people you care about if you try it," she said. "We simply cannot have another tragedy of this magnitude in Manitoba or in Canada."
"Shand is 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 aliens," The United States Attorney's Office said in a news release.
It added Shand is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
He remains in custody.