U.S. agents have launched an investigation into a larger human smuggling operation after a family of four froze to death while attempting to cross into the United States from Canada near Emerson, Man. during a blizzard.
Court documents obtained by CTV News provide new details into the investigation and arrest of 47-year-old Steve Shand, a resident of Deltona, Florida. Authorities believe the deaths of the four people are linked to a larger smuggling ring.
“The investigation into the death of the four individuals in Canada is ongoing along with an investigation into a larger human smuggling operation of which Shand is suspected of being a part,” special agent John Stanley with the United States Department of Homeland Security said in a sworn affidavit
Stanley said the area is known by U.S. Border Patrol as a high incident area for human smuggling.
According to the court documents, there have been three separate incidents of human smuggling at the same location of Shand’s arrest.
The affidavit said one of the border patrol agents had seen boot prints in the snow made by three people who crossed the border in the area on Jan 12. The boot prints were made by the same brand of boots worn by the group of five who were arrested.
Two previous incidents of human smuggling are believed to have happened on Dec. 12 and Dec. 22 – with two groups of four believed to have walked across the border into the U.S. before being picked up by someone in a vehicle, according to the court documents.
DETAILS ON SHAND’S ARREST
According to the affidavit, Stanley said he was informed by Border Patrol Agents Shand – a suspected smuggler of undocumented foreign nationals – had been arrested around 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
The affidavit said Shand was arrested less than a mile south of the border driving a white 15-passenger van with two “Indian nationals who were illegally present in the United States.”
There are no records of Shand lawfully crossing the Canada-U.S. border.
Stanley said he was told a group of five Indian nationals were also found and arrested about the time and near the place of Shand’s arrest. The five people had new identical cold weather gear, which matched some of the gear Shand had also with him.
One of the surviving foreign nationals, a woman, was airlifted to a hospital and will likely require partial amputation of one hand due to exposure, according to court documents.
“The female also stopped breathing several times while being transferred by Border Patrol,” the court documents read.
Another surviving foreign national, a male, was hospitalized for suspected frostbite, but later released.
GROUP DROPPED OFF IN CANADA, BECAME SEPARATED DURING WALK ACROSS THE BORDER
“The group of five Indian nationals found after Shand’s arrest had walked across the border expecting to be picked up by someone on the U.S. side, according to one of the five, whose name was V.D.,” the affidavit reads.
V.D. told border patrol agents they had walked about one kilometre south from where they were dropped off in Canada, and had been walking for about 11 and a half hours, according to the court documents.
He had been carrying a backpack containing children’s items, which he said belonged to a family that had been walking with his group earlier.
“V.D. said that his group had become separated from the family during the night, and he did not know where the family was,” the affidavit reads.
FOUR PEOPLE, INCLUDING BABY, FOUND FROZEN TO DEATH NEAR BORDER
Manitoba RCMP discovered the frozen bodies– a man and woman with a baby, and a boy believed to be in his mid-teens – on Wednesday afternoon. RCMP said it is believed the four people died due to exposure to the cold weather.
Court documents said the bodies have been tentatively identified as the family of four that had been separated from V.D.’s group.
In the affidavit, Stanley said one of the foreign nationals told border patrol agents he had paid a significant amount of money to enter Canada from India under a fraudulently obtained student visa, with the intention 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,” the court documents read.
Shand is facing human smuggling charges, though he is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in court.
CTV News will update the story.