Manitoba RCMP are trying to track the final movements of a family of four who froze to death while attempting to walk across the Canada-U.S. border in a -35C blizzard.

Manitoba RCMP are trying to track the final movements of a family of four who froze to death while attempting to walk across the Canada-U.S. border in a -35C blizzard.

The identities of the Indian nationals — Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, 39; his wife, Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, 37; their daughter, Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel, 11; and three-year-old son, Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel — were confirmed Thursday.

Officers found their bodies just metres from the border while searching a field about 10 kilometres east of Emerson on the afternoon of Jan. 19. It is some 11,000 kilometres from their village of Dingucha in the Indian state of Gujarat.

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Jagdish Patel, his wife, Vaishali, daughter Vihanga, and three-year-old son, Dharmik were found 10 kilometres east of Emerson, Man.

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Jagdish Patel, his wife, Vaishali, daughter Vihanga, and three-year-old son, Dharmik were found 10 kilometres east of Emerson, Man.

Chief Supt. Rob Hill, who is in charge of criminal operations for Manitoba RCMP, said the Patels arrived in Toronto on Jan. 12 and made their way to the Emerson area on or about Jan. 18.

Police believe they were dropped off as part of a human smuggling operation, which is being investigated by authorities in at least three countries.

"There was no abandoned vehicle located on the Canadian side of the border. This clearly indicates that someone drove the family to the border and then left the scene," Hill said at a press conference.

The Patels were attempting to make the perilous crossing with seven undocumented Indian nationals, who were detained by U.S. border patrol agents after walking into Minnesota on the morning of Jan. 19, according to a court document. The U.s. has started deportation proceedings against the seven Indians.

RCMP are trying to find out how the Patels, who were unfamiliar with Canada, entered and travelled across the country, where they stayed, who transported them and why they were attempting to go to the U.S.

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Chief Supt. Rob Hill said the “extensive” and “complex” investigation, involving law enforcement and government agencies in Canada, the U.S. and India, will go on for months.

JESSE BOILY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chief Supt. Rob Hill said the “extensive” and “complex” investigation, involving law enforcement and government agencies in Canada, the U.S. and India, will go on for months.

"A part of the investigation is determining whether this travel was facilitated in some way by an individual or individuals," said Hill.

Police were unaware if the Patels had obtained visas or had family in the U.S. Investigators believe people such as hotel, restaurant or gas station workers may have spoken to or seen the Patels.

"We need anyone who had interaction with the Patel family or has information about their journey to the border to think about what they went through and to step forward," said Hill. "Any information about their time in Canada will be incredibly helpful to our investigators."

Hill said the "extensive" and "complex" investigation, involving law enforcement and government agencies in Canada, the U.S. and India, will go on for months.

The Patels were carrying their passports, and investigators used those documents and fingerprints to positively identify the family, said RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Julie Courchaine.

All four died of exposure, police said, after the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner completed autopsies.

All four died of exposure, police said, after the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner completed autopsies.

In its initial assessment of the frozen bodies, the RCMP believed the children were an infant and a teenage boy. The older child turned out to be a girl.

"We apologize for that error, but please understand the frozen state in which the bodies were found, and the clothing worn by the family, made the initial identification difficult," said Hill. "It is also why the process to confirm the names took an extended period of time."

The RCMP worked with officials from India’s high commission in Ottawa and its consulate in Toronto to notify relatives in India on Thursday.

A Free Press reporter spoke to Jagdish Patel’s cousin, Jaswant Patel, on Thursday morning before the victims’ identities were confirmed.

Jaswant Patel expressed frustration as relatives in Dingucha waited days to find out if the bodies belonged to their loved ones.

"Why are the police taking so long?" he asked in a WhatsApp message.

Relatives lost contact with the Patels a few days after they arrived in Canada. They alerted Indian officials after seeing online news reports about the bodies discovered near Emerson, sparking the anxious wait for answers.

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Police believe the group of people was dropped off as part of a human smuggling operation, which is being investigated by authorities in at least three countries.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Police believe the group of people was dropped off as part of a human smuggling operation, which is being investigated by authorities in at least three countries.

Jagdish Patel had told relatives his family had obtained visitor visas for Canada.

The Patels hailed from a farming community, home to about 3,000 people, in the western state of Gujarat. The seven who made it across the border are believed to be from the same state.

Heartbroken members of Manitoba’s Gujarati community are prepared to offer support to Patel relatives in India, said Ash Patel, a Winnipegger who co-organized a virtual prayer service on Monday.

"It is terrible for the family. It is unbearable for the parents (of Jagdish and Vaishaliben Patel)," said Ash Patel.

In a news release, the Consulate General of India in Toronto said it is offering support to relatives in India.

The tragedy that befell the Patel family "has brought into focus the need to ensure that migration and mobility are made safe and legal and that such tragedies do not recur," the release stated.

In the U.S., Steve Shand of Deltona, Fla., faces counts of transporting or attempting to transport illegal aliens. A Minnesota judge agreed to release him from custody on Monday.

In the U.S., Steve Shand of Deltona, Fla., faces counts of transporting or attempting to transport illegal aliens.

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In the U.S., Steve Shand of Deltona, Fla., faces counts of transporting or attempting to transport illegal aliens.

A court document claims Shand, driving a rented van, was supposed to pick up the 11 Indian nationals on a rural road just over the border near St. Vincent, Minn.

Two were with the 47-year-old when he was arrested Jan. 19, the affidavit stated. Five others were found nearby.

All seven, who were wearing new winter clothing, had varying degrees of frostbite and hypothermia. Aged in their late teens and early 20s, they have been released from custody pending removal proceedings, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman said.

The search for the Patels began after a survivor told U.S. border agents the family had become separated from the larger group as it walked for more than 11 hours overnight.

The search for the Patels began after a survivor told U.S. border agents the family had become separated from the larger group as it walked for more than 11 hours overnight.

That man was carrying a backpack belonging to the family. It contained children’s clothing and medication, a diaper and toys.

According to the affidavit, he told agents the drop-off spot in Manitoba was about a kilometre north of the border.

Another survivor told agents he paid a significant amount of money to obtain a fraudulent student visa to enter Canada, and was on his way to meet family in Chicago.

Police in Gujarat have begun delving deeper into the deaths and the smuggling scheme.

Ashish Bhatia, director general of police in the state, said investigators are trying to determine whether there was a travel agent in India who helped the group.

Ashish Bhatia, director general of police in the state, said investigators are trying to determine whether there was a travel agent in India who helped the group.

Police official A.K. Jhala, based in the state capital Gandhinagar, told Reuters six people who allegedly ran a travel and tourism company had been detained.

"We are now trying to nab the human traffickers who managed to send this family and others abroad via illegal channels," said Jhala.

Anyone with information for Manitoba RCMP is asked to call 431-489-8551, or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477, or secure tip online at www.manitobacrimestoppers.com.

— with files from Carol Sanders and The Canadian Press

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching