Canadian authorities on Thursday released the identities of an Indian family that froze to death last week at the U.S.-Canada border and vowed to aggressively investigate the case of human smuggling.
The family of four — a father, mother and two children — were found dead Jan. 19 on the Canadian side of the border about 6 miles east of Noyes, Minn.
The deceased were Jagdish B. Patel, 39; Vaishaliben J. Patel, 37; Vihangi J. Patel, an 11-year-old girl, and Dharmik J. Patel, a 3-year-old boy.
The Patel family arrived in Toronto on Jan. 12 and in Emerson, Manitoba, on Jan. 18, according to Rob Hill, chief superintendent for criminal operations of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Winnipeg. Hill said investigators believe the family was driven from Toronto to the border.
"We believe this to be a case of human smuggling," he said at a news conference. "This will be a lengthy investigation. But our officers are determined to find out exactly how this tragedy occurred."
Meanwhile, U.S. authorities said that seven other unauthorized immigrants picked up in the same vicinity on the same day are being processed for removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Steve Shand, a 47-year-old Florida man, has been charged in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis with human smuggling. Shand was released on a personal recognizance bond last week after a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer.
According to the criminal complaint, Shand rented a 15-passenger van at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and made his way to Kittson County in far northwestern Minnesota, stopping in Fargo along the way to pick up food and drinks.
On the morning of Jan. 19, a U.S. Border Patrol officer stopped Shand, who had two unauthorized immigrants in his van, according to the complaint. Officers then discovered five other immigrants making their way on foot to a nearby meeting place.
One man had children's clothing, diapers and toys in a backpack, but there was no child with the group. Authorities launched a search and discovered the Patel family's bodies about four hours later. After autopsies, authorities determined they had frozen to death.
Temperatures on the border at the time had reached 10-below, with a wind-chill factor of 30- to 40-below.
Hill said authorities will be looking at how the family made their way to the border and who might have facilitated the journey.