Manitoba RCMP say four people, one an infant, were found dead Wednesday at the Canada-U.S. border.
“What I am about to share is going to be difficult for many people to hear,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said at a news conference on Thursday.
“It is an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy.”
The bodies of a man, woman and baby were found together in one area, while the body of a teen boy was found a few metres away, she said.
They are believed to have died from exposure to the freezing weather while attempting to walk across the border from Canada to the United States.
Just before 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, members of the RCMP integrated border enforcement team were alerted that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers had apprehended a group that crossed into the U.S. from Canada, near the town of Emerson.
The U.S. officials said one of the adults had items meant for an infant, but that no infant was with the group.
A search was immediately launched on both sides of the border, MacLatchy said.
Working on identification
The bodies were found around 1:30 p.m. on the Canadian side of the border, about 10 kilometres east of Emerson and nine to 12 metres from the border.
“I can assure you that the search for any possible survivors or additional victims continued throughout the evening [Wednesday] and our officers continued to patrol the area today,” MacLatchy said.
To date, no other victims have been located. MacLatchy couldn’t say how many people, believed to be from the same group, were apprehended in the U.S.
Work is underway to identify the names, ages and nationalities of the people who died and an autopsy has been scheduled to confirm the causes of death, MacLatchy said, referring to them as victims.
“That’s on purpose. We’re very concerned that this attempted crossing may have been facilitated in some way and that these individuals, including an infant, were left on their own in the middle of a blizzard when the weather hovered around –35 [with the wind chill],” she said.
“These victims faced not only the cold weather but endless fields, large snowdrifts and complete darkness.”
RCMP do not yet know how the people arrived in Emerson in the first place, but investigators will look into every aspect of their deaths, MacLatchy said.
Her officers are working closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The dangers of crossing
“I also have a message to anyone who’s thinking of crossing the border in Manitoba, either heading south or north: just don’t do it,” MacLatchy said.
“Do not listen to anyone who tells you they can get you to your destination safely. They cannot. Even with proper clothing it is not a journey that is possible.
“I do understand that for some there may be a great need to get to another country, but this is not the way. You will be risking your life and the lives of the people you care about if you try it.”
There had been a number of incidents involving asylum seekers crossing into Manitoba — and other provinces — from the U.S in 2017, shortly after Donald Trump became president.
The crossings were believed to be motivated by Trump’s talk of cracking down on illegal immigration and imposing mass deportations. That provoked widespread fear among refugees.
Those incidents have significantly declined in recent years, MacLatchy said.
WATCH | Full RCMP news conference on bodies found near border:
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