‘My heart is crying’: Family who died of cold near Canada-U.S. border identified in Indian press

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A family of four who died just 12 metres from the Canada-U.S. border in unforgiving winter conditions has been identified by several Indian newspapers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/01/2022 (377 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A family of four who died just 12 metres from the Canada-U.S. border in unforgiving winter conditions has been identified by several Indian newspapers.

Jagdish Patel, 35, his wife, Vaishali Patel, 33, and their children Vihanga, 12 and Dharmik, 3, from the Indian village of Dingucha village are reportedly the foursome who set off to cross into the U.S. with a group of 11 Indian nationals, but who became separated from the group and died. Seven other Indian nationals were arrested in the U.S. as part of the border-crossing attempt.

The bodies were found last Thursday by RCMP officers, but the Mounties have not yet confirmed their identities, citing the need to inform their next of kin.

Jagdish Patel, wife Vaishali, daughter Vihanga, 12, and son Dharmik, 3, have not been heard from for nearly two weeks. (Photo courtesy of Amrut Patel)

Much remains unknown about the family and their bid to cross the border: how they entered Canada, how the alleged smuggling ring they worked with operated, and why they so urgently wanted to get to the U.S. that they went out in the night when the temperature was as low as -35C.

It’s a circumstance that Hemant Shah, an Indo-Canadian living in Winnipeg, found shocking.

“For the last five days we don’t venture out for more than five minutes because of the cold,” he told the Star. “You can’t imagine how the kids would be crying during this. What they have gone through — when I realized — my heart is crying.”

With two others, he organized a Zoom prayer for the Patel family, which he said about 150 members of the Indo-Canadian community attended. Now, Shah says, he wants Canadian officials to work to find out what happened to the four deceased Patels, and how to prevent it from happening again.

“For me it’s an unbelievable decision,” said Ash Patel, another Winnipeg man, originally from Gujarat, who helped organize the memorial prayer. “I’ve lived in Canada 18 years but I’ve never heard of this happening.”

The New Indian Express reported that Jagdish Patel was a teacher in India, and that the Patels’ extended family did not know the four planned to travel on to the U.S. from Canada. Several Indian newspapers from the country noted that Dingucha has been a magnet for human-smuggling operations, with people offering locals risky opportunities to illegally enter the U.S. and experience a version of the American dream.

Meanwhile, Steve Shand, 47, of Deltona, Fla., who was stopped with some of the Indian nationals south of the border, appeared in a North Dakota court on Monday and was released pending a trial.

Authorities allege he is part of a larger, organized human-smuggling ring. Beyond last week’s incident, the complaint against Shand details two previous suspected smuggling events in recent weeks, allegedly discovered by U.S. Border Patrol agents who found footprints in the snow.

Facing human-smuggling charges, Shand has agreed to make his own way back to Minnesota for court appearances.

An interview with one of the arrested Indian nationals, described in a complaint filed in Minnesota District Court against Shand, shed some possible light on the failed border plan.

An affidavit by U.S. Department of Homeland Security John Stanley special agent said the Indian national “reported that he paid a significant amount of money to enter Canada from India under a fraudulently obtained student visa … He did not intend to study in Canada but rather to illegally enter the United States.”

RCMP said they are working with U.S. officials on ongoing investigations.

Alex McKeen is a Vancouver-based reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_mckeen

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