Grief-stricken relatives from India, U.S., travel here for funeral of family who died in blizzard at border


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Grieving relatives wept as they placed toys next to the bodies of two children at a funeral for an Indian family who died trying to walk across the Canada-U.S. border.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/02/2022 (478 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Grieving relatives wept as they placed toys next to the bodies of two children at a funeral for an Indian family who died trying to walk across the Canada-U.S. border.

Parents Jagdish Patel, 39, and Vaishaliben Patel, 37, their 11-year-old daughter, Vihangi, and three-year-old son, Dharmik, were found frozen to death in a field east of Emerson on Jan. 19.

About a dozen family members from India and the U.S. flew to Winnipeg for Sunday’s traditional Hindu funeral service and cremation at Thomson in the Park Funeral Home in Fort Garry.

SUPPLIED From left: Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, son Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel, wife and mother Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel and daughter Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel.

Mourners in the Patels’ home village of Dingucha, located in the western state of Gujarat, watched a livestream of the two-hour service on the funeral home’s YouTube page.

As the service began, relatives wiped away tears and hugged in front of open caskets decorated with large arrangements of red and white flowers.

A Paw Patrol toy was placed next to Dharmik. Vihangi’s casket contained a white stuffed animal and a glitter unicorn purse. A sparkly red bow was visible in the girl’s hair.

Bhadresh Bhatt, past president of the Hindu Society of Manitoba, described it as the saddest funeral he has ever attended.

Bhatt was among a handful of Winnipeggers on hand to support relatives who travelled to Manitoba from abroad.

“I’ve been to funerals before, but nothing like this. A funeral for a family of four at the same time,” said Bhatt, who didn’t know the Patels. “They were tragic deaths. It’s a very sad incident for any community. It should not have happened to such a young family.”

RCMP officers, who are investigating a suspected human-smuggling operation alongside authorities in the U.S. and India, spoke to relatives of the Patel family.

A relative from Bloomington, Ill., set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for funeral costs and to provide financial support to family in India. More than $100,000 has been donated so far.

“The pain for the family can not be imagined. There are no words to pay tribute,” the page stated.

Dingucha resident Amrut Patel, who knows Jagdish Patel’s father, previously told the Free Press relatives decided to hold a funeral in Winnipeg instead of India because it was too expensive to repatriate the bodies.

Home to about 3,000 people, the farming village has held a period of mourning and events to honour the Patels and support their loved ones.

The Patels were found in a snow-covered field just metres north of the border after seven undocumented Indian nationals were detained by U.S. border patrol agents near St. Vincent, Minn., on the morning of Jan. 19.

Investigators believe the Patels and the larger group were dropped off close to the border the previous night to make a perilous and illegal crossing on foot during a -35 C blizzard.

RCMP said the Patels arrived in Toronto on Jan. 12. Officers are trying to find out how the family travelled from Canada’s most populated city to barren fields near Emerson, and who transported them.

A vehicle was not found at the drop-off site on the Canadian side of the border.

Officers from Manitoba recently visited the Toronto area to pursue leads following a public appeal. RCMP said hotel, restaurant or gas station workers may have spoken to or seen the Patels during their journey to the border area.

Police had received about a dozen tips as of a week ago while tracking the family’s movements.

The seven survivors were released from custody in the U.S., and are subject to deportation proceedings.

One told U.S. border agents the larger group had walked for more than 11 hours before they were detained along with an alleged human smuggler, a court affidavit stated.

Another said he bought a fake student visa to enter Canada and was on his way to meet family in Chicago, the document alleged.

Deltona, Fla., resident Steve Shand, 47, has been charged with transporting or attempting to transport illegal aliens.

Driving a rented van, he was tasked with picking up the Indian nationals on a rural road just over the border in Minnesota, the affidavit claimed.

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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