Four found dead near Minn. border; man charged with human smuggling

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A man appeared in a Minnesota courtroom Thursday to face a human smuggling charge as Canadian authorities investigate the deaths of four people just 40 feet from the border in Manitoba.

U.S. court documents indicate the four appear to have been part of a group of 11 Indian nationals who had been attempting to cross into Minnesota.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police say they found the bodies on Wednesday afternoon after receiving an alert from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The bodies of a man, woman, and infant were found on the Canadian side of the border about 10 kilometers (6 miles) east of Emerson, and the body of a male believed to be in his mid-teens was located at a different site.

According to the Minnesota U.S. Attorney’s Office, authorities first became aware of the situation when Border Patrol agents pulled over a van driven by 47-year-old Steve Shand one mile south of the border. Officers found two undocumented Indian nationals in the van and arrested Shand, of Florida, for allegedly smuggling undocumented foreign nationals.

While Shand was being taken to a Border Patrol station, law enforcement located five more people walking in the direction of where Shand had been arrested.

A news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota said, "The five Indian nationals explained that they had walked across the border expecting to be picked up by someone. The group estimated they had been walking around for over 11 hours."

One of the five people in the second group had a backpack containing items for an infant, but there was no infant with the group. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he said he was carrying the backpack for a family of four Indian nationals that had separated from their group during the night.

It was at that time that U.S. authorities alerted counterparts in Canada and the search began, resulting in the discovery of the four bodies.

"At this very early stage of the investigation, it appears that they all died due to exposure to the cold weather. Work is underway to identify the victims and an autopsy has been scheduled to confirm the cause of death," Manitoba RCMP said in a news release.

The RCMP said Thursday that it continues to patrol the area to look for possible survivors or other potential victims.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says two of the Indian nationals who survived sustained serious injuries and were taken to a hospital.

Shand made a preliminary appearance in federal court on Thursday and will remain in custody pending a preliminary and detention hearing that is set for Monday, Jan. 24. He is charged with one count of knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien had come to, entered, or remained in the United States in violation of law, having transported, and moved or having attempted to transport and move such aliens.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Shand was driving a rented 15-passenger van which contained cases of plastic cups, bottled water, bottled juice, and snacks. The van was scheduled to be returned on Thursday.

The Manitoba-Minnesota border began to receive attention in 2017 due to a surge in illegal crossings. Later, a neo-Nazi group member from Manitoba was accused of plotting an attack in the U.S. after allegedly walking into Minnesota illegally in 2019.