The deaths of four Indian nationals found steps away from the Canada-US border are connected to a human smuggling scheme, authorities believe.
Jagdish Patel, 39, Vaishailben Patel, 37, and their children Vihangi, 11, and Dharkmik, 3, died from exposure due to the frigid cold near Manitoba, Canada.
Temperatures dropped to -35C on the night the Patel family attempted to cross into the US on foot.
The family was found in a field north of the border on 19 January.
Their identities were announced by Canada’s High Commission of India and later confirmed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, RCMP superintendent Rob Hill said the Patel family first arrived in Canada on 12 January, on a flight to Toronto. From there, they made their way west to Manitoba, before travelling to Emerson a border town – on or around 18 January. Their bodies were found the next night.
No vehicle was found near the Canada-US border in Emerson, suggesting that someone drove the Patel family to a drop-off point before they began their journey on foot.
“This is an extended period of time for a family who is unfamiliar with Canada to be travelling across the country”, Mr Hill said. It is believed that someone may have facilitated the family’s travel.
The RCMP would not comment on whether the Patels’ case was connected to a group of seven other Indian nationals also found by border agents on the evening of 19 January.
Steve Shand, a 47-year-old Florida resident, has been charged with human smuggling after authorities found him driving a 15-person van along the border, on the same night the Patels were found. Mr Shand had two Indian nationals as passengers in his car, and cases of food and water in his boot.
The deaths of the Patel family have rocked the Indian community in Manitoba.
While perilous border crossings have become typical to the United States’ southern border, this type of journey is less common from the north.
The RCMP has launched an “extensive” investigation into how the Patels made their way to Canada, co-ordinating with the US and India. It is so far unknown if the Patels had family in Canada or the US.