Four individuals believed to Indian nationals – a man, woman, teenager and baby- have been found frozen to death just north of the U.S. border in Canada. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) found the deceased in a field near Emerson, Manitoba, on Wednesday, after they were alerted by their counterparts in the U.S.
One American citizen has been arrested in connection with the case on the U.S. side of the border. Seven other Indians were detained by police in the U.S. – one of whom is in the hospital from serious weather related injuries.
“I know that what I am about to share is going to be difficult for many people to hear,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said at a press briefing on Thursday as she announced the deaths. “It is an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy,” she said offering her condolences to the loved ones of the deceased.
Ms MacLatchy said she was using the word “victim” on purpose, according to a video of the press interaction. She expressed concern that the individuals were “left on their own, in the middle of a blizzard when the weather hovered around minus 35 C , factoring [in] the wind.” The individuals faced not only cold weather but also “endless fields” winds and darkness, she said.
“We have not confirmed the identity of the four deceased persons at this time and the investigation is ongoing,” RCMP spokesperson Julie Courchaine told The Hindu via email. “A thorough search was conducted and thankfully no other victims were located,” she said.
The U.S. Department of Justice charged a 47 year old Florida man, Steve Shand, with human smuggling, Acting U.S. Attorney Charles J Kovats announced. Mr Shand, who was driving a 15-passenger van, had been arrested just south (i.e., within a mile on the U.S. side) of the U.S.-Canada border on Wednesday between ports of entry in Pembina, North Dakota and Lancaster, Minnesota. Two individuals in the van were determined to be undocumented Indian nationals, as per the U.S. Attorney’s office.
As Mr Shand and the two Indian nationals were being driven to a border patrol station, a group of five Indian nationals was seen walking in the direction of where Mr Shand was picked up, according to court documents described by the DoJ. The group had been walking approximately 11 hours and said they were waiting to be picked up by someone, as per the DoJ.
“…Agents encountered five additional people walking on a nearby road experiencing severe signs of hypothermia and frostbite due to exposure to the extreme cold and wind chill. Agents immediately rendered aid, called for Emergency Medical Services and began transporting two of the individuals to an area hospital,” a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statement said.
One member of the group had a backpack that he said belonged to fellow travelers who had been separated from him. The bag contained children’s clothes and medicines, a diaper and some toys, as per official accounts.
The U.S. Border Police alerted the RCMP and received a report on the same day (Wednesday) from them that four deceased individuals had been found.
Two of the surviving Indians were taken to the hospital. One of them , a man, was discharged and is back in the custody of U.S. authorities while one of them, a woman, has been shifted to a hospital in St Paul, Minnesota for advanced care.
Speaking of those who died, McLatchy said, “We don’t know how these individuals got to Emerson, but our investigators are certainly going to look into every aspect of their deaths.”
The Hindu reached out to a CBP Great Plains official, who declined to comment beyond the published statement, saying the investigation was ongoing.
Jaishankar asks Ambassadors to respond
“Shocked by the report that 4 Indian nationals, including an infant have lost their lives at the Canada-US border. Have asked our Ambassadors in the US and Canada to urgently respond to the situation,” External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar tweeted on Friday.
A Indian consular team was traveling to Minnesota on Friday to assist in the matter, India’s Ambassador to the U.S., Taranjit Singh Sandhu said on Twitter in reference to Mr Jaishankar’s tweet. Another team was on its way to Manitoba, India’s Ambassador to Canada, Ajay Bisaria said on Twitter.