Mounties have confirmed some of the movements of members of an Indian migrant family who froze to death near the US-Canada border earlier this year, but after months of investigation said they were still unsure how they made it to Manitoba.
Officials have traveled across Canada and the United States over the past nine months conducting interviews and tracking tips to trace the whereabouts of the Patel family after they arrived in Canada from India, RCMP said.
Sergeant Gary Bird of the RCMP Serious Crime Service is appealing to those who may have seen or helped the family to contact police.
“That should not have happened. Four lives, a whole family are gone,” he said in a press release on Friday.
“We need the people who have information to come forward so we can find out what happened and hold those involved accountable.”
The bodies of Jagdishkumar Patel, 39; his wife Vaishaliben Patel, 37; her 11-year-old daughter Vihangi; and their three-year-old son Dharmik were found on January 19 near Emerson, Man., just a few meters from the US border. It was determined that her death was due to exposure.
Investigators believe the family’s travels from a village in the western Indian state of Gujarat to Canada and their attempt to cross the border were part of a larger human smuggling network.
The family was dropped off near the border in freezing temperatures. They were trying to enter the United States on foot with a larger group when they got separated.
The family first arrived in Canada at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Jan. 12, police previously reported.
RCMP said Friday the Patel family arrived in Toronto that day on a flight that departed Dubai. From there, the family was picked up by a private vehicle and then stayed in private accommodation and hotels in the city.
The family used ride-sharing apps to travel between the different shelters, RCMP said.
Investigators believe the family left Toronto shortly before their bodies were discovered, but said they still don’t know how they got to Emerson.
RCMP said they investigated all modes of commercial transportation between the two sites, including air, rail and bus.
Bird said there was still a gap in the family’s whereabouts from Jan. 15 until their bodies were discovered four days later.
“We’re confident that people saw the family during this time and helped them as they traveled more than 1,200 miles from Toronto to Emerson,” Bird said.
“We need these people to come forward and share what they know about the Patel family’s journey in Canada. Even the smallest bit of information can matter.”
Police also released surveillance video from Toronto Airport to generate tips.
Steve Shand of Deltona, Florida has been charged with people smuggling. US officials claim he is part of an organized human smuggling ring. Court documents say there is evidence he could be linked to three other border crossings since December.
The documents say Shand was driving a van with two Indian nationals south of the border.
Five others from India were spotted in the snow shortly after walking towards the van. They told border guards they walked for more than 11 hours in the cold and that four others were separated from the group overnight, court documents said.
A man in the group also said he paid a large sum of money to get a fake student visa in Canada and was expecting a ride to a relative’s home in Chicago after crossing the border, the documents said.
Shand’s trial is scheduled for January 9 in Minnesota.
– Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press