Four people, including a baby and a teenager, were found dead in frigid weather near the U.S.-Canada border and a Florida man is facing federal human smuggling charges as authorities in both countries describe a suspected failed border crossing attempt.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the victims were found about 40 feet north of the international border and are believed to be part of a group crossing from Canada into the U.S. on Wednesday.
Canadian officials say the group likely died of exposure to extreme cold. The deceased were found near the town of Emerson, Manitoba, which is roughly 150 miles north of Fargo, North Dakota.
On the U.S. side of the border, a Florida man was charged on Thursday with human smuggling. The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota said Steve Shand, 47, appeared in court Thursday.
Shand was stopped by U.S. Border Patrol less than a mile south of the U.S.-Canada border, driving a 15-passenger van. Agents found two undocumented immigrants from India inside the van, according to the Department of Justice.
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Border Patrol arrested Shand for smuggling undocumented foreign nationals. While he was being transported to a facility, law enforcement saw five other Indian immigrants about a quarter-mile south of the Canadian border, walking in the direction of where Shand was arrested.
The group told law enforcement that they had been walking around for 11 hours, and crossed the border expecting to be picked up by someone.
They were exhibiting severe signs of hypothermia and frostbite from exposure to the extreme cold and wind chill, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said. Two were taken to the hospital.
One of the group members said he was carrying the backpack for a family of four who had walked with his group earlier but became separated during the night. The backpack contained children’s clothes, a diaper, toys, and some children’s medication, the Department of Justice said.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said at a Thursday news conference that human smuggling was suspected in the incident. "We’re very concerned that 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."
Shand remained in custody late Thursday. Authorities allege in court documents that Shand has likely been involved in other border crossings, including two recent incidents in December.
As of Thursday afternoon, the search on the Canadian side of the border has concluded, MacLatchy told USA TODAY.
The individuals, who would have been traversing agricultural fields filled with waist-high snow, would have faced "white out conditions" and temperatures below -40 degrees, accounting for wind chill.
MacLatchy added this is the first border crossing going north to south she has seen in her jurisdiction.
Previously, the number of people apprehended for illegally crossing from Canada into the United States along its northern border spiked around 2020, according to federal data. At the time, The Associated Press reported some migrants from Mexico appeared to find the northern border easier to cross than the southern border, for a variety of reasons.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 4 dead in frigid cold near Canada border; human smuggling suspected