Four people found frozen in a Manitoba field near the Canada-U.S. border last week have been officially identified as a family of four from India.
The bodies of Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, a 39-year-old man, Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, a 37-year-old woman, Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel, an 11-year-old girl, and Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel, a three-year-old boy, were found in a field just north of the border on Jan. 19, the High Commission of India in Ottawa said in a news release.
At a news conference later Thursday, Manitoba RCMP Chief Supt. Rob Hill confirmed that while Mounties initially identified the people as a man, woman, teenage boy and infant, the children who died were actually a girl and a toddler.
“We apologize for that error, but please understand that the frozen state in which the bodies were found and the clothing worn by the family made the initial confirmation difficult. It is also why the process to confirm the names took an extended period of time,” Hill said.
Autopsies of the four were done on Wednesday by Manitoba’s chief medical examiner and confirmed that the family members died of exposure to extreme weather conditions.
Hill said the investigation into the case determined the Patel family arrived in Toronto on Jan. 12 and made their way to the Manitoba community of Emerson around Jan. 18.
No abandoned vehicle was found on the Canadian side of the border, which indicates someone drove the family there and left, he said.
Investigators believe the case involved human smuggling and would like to speak to anyone who may have helped or seen the family while they were in Canada.
“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 step forward,” Hill said, adding Mounties believe the family’s interactions could include hotel, gas station and restaurant employees.
“This is an extended period of time for a family who is unfamiliar with Canada to be travelling across the country.”
Anyone with information is asked to call the RCMP’s major crime services tip line at 431-489-8551.
Tipsters can also call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477 or submit a secure tip online at manitobacrimestoppers.com.
The Consulate General of India in Toronto has been in touch with the victims’ family and is providing support.
Authorities have said they believe the four were a family who died while they were trying to walk across the border into the United States.
Seven other Indian nationals were arrested on the other side of the border shortly before the bodies were found. It’s believed those seven and the family who died were part of the same group, but that they had become separated during the journey.
Six of the seven people detained were placed under an order of supervision, while one was released on an order of recognizance for humanitarian purposes, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Kris Grogan said in an email on Thursday.
All seven were either administratively processed for removal or placed into removal proceedings and have since been released from U.S. Border Patrol custody. They’ve all been ordered to report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, as a later date, Grogan said.
The High Commission of India in Ottawa and the country’s consulate in Toronto are working closely with authorities in Canada on the investigation, the High Commission release said.
A special team led by a senior consular officer is in Manitoba to help those investigations and offer consular services for victims.
Canada is a preferred destination for Indian immigrants and students, the news release said, and the two countries work together to ensure the safety and well-being of Indian immigrants in Canada.
“The two countries have a regular consular dialogue which takes up issues related to migration and welfare of citizens in each other’s territories,” the release said.
The discovery of the four frozen bodies last week has highlighted the need to ensure migration and mobility between countries are made safe and legal to avoid similar tragedies, the release said.
A number of ideas to prevent irregular migration and human smuggling and trafficking are being discussed by the two countries, it said. That includes a comprehensive migration and mobility partnership agreement with Canada, which the release said remains under the consideration of the Canadian government.