Four fatalities on U.S.-Canada border were Gujarati family, news report says

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FILE PHOTO: A sign post for the small border town of Emerson, near the Canada-U.S border crossing in Emerson, Manitoba, Canada, February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Lyle Stafford

The four individuals who died in bitterly cold temperatures  while trying to get into the U.S. from Canada Jan. 19, 2022, belonged to a Gujarati family from Dingucha village in Gandhinagar district, the Free Press Journal reported Jan. 24, 2022.

In a tragic case of what U.S. authorities have identified as human smuggling, leading to fatalities due to freezing temperatures, several Indian nationals were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol, and some found dead by Canadian law enforcement on both sides of the border.

Acting United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota Charles J. Kovats announced Jan. 20, that a federal criminal complaint has been filed against Steve Shand, 47 of Florida charging him with human smuggling.

The four dead were identified by authorities as Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, his wife Vaishali Patel, daughter Gopi, 10, and son Dharmik, 3, the Free Press Journal reported.

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According to the FP Journal, the four were part of a larger group from the village which had been staying in Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada, for some months before trying to get into the U.S.

On Jan. 19, the U.S. Justice Department said law enforcement agents with Homeland Security Investigations responded to a request for assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) based out of Pembina, North Dakota. The USBP initiated a traffic stop on a white-colored, fifteen passenger van less than one mile south of the U.S./Canadian border in a rural area and discovered cases of plastic cups, bottled water, bottled juice, and snacks as well as 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.

Shand and the two passengers of Indian origin in the van, were being transported to the Pembina Border Patrol Station in North Dakota, when 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.

They appeared to be headed to an unstaffed gas plant located in St. Vincent, Minnesota. The five Indian nationals explained that they had walked across the border expecting to be picked up by someone, the Justice Department said in its news release based on court documents.

The group estimated they had been walking around for over 11 hours. One of the group members was carrying a backpack that did not belong to him. He told law enforcement he was carrying the backpack for a family of four Indian nationals who had earlier walked with his group but had become separated during the night.  The backpack contained children’s clothes, a diaper, toys, and some children’s medication.

According to court documents, later during the day on January 19, 2022, 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.

Meanwhile, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, describing the deaths of the Indian family as ‘mind blowing’ tragedy, vowed to do whatever possible to stop human smuggling across the border, Reuters reported Jan. 21.

“It was an absolutely mind-blowing story. It’s so tragic to see a family die like that, victims of human traffickers … and of people who took advantage of their desire to build a better life,” Reuters quotod Trudeau saying at a news conference, adding, “This is why we are doing all we can to discourage people from crossing the border in an irregular or illicit manner.”

Canadian officials described it as a ‘lunar landscape’ where the family died, adding that it was easy to get disoriented in those conditions, the Reuters report said.

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