Indian village fears family missing at center of deadly Manitoba smuggling case



Jaswant Patel waits for a knock on his door or a phone call to confirm his worst fears or dig deeper into a mystery that has devoured a village in India.

Her cousin’s family, including two young children, are missing nearly two weeks after they said they would use visitor visas to travel to Canada from their hometown of Dingucha earlier this month.

Relatives stopped hearing from the family – identified as Jagdish Patel, 35, his wife Vaishali, 33, daughter Vihanga, 12 and three-year-old son Dharmik – a few days later.

Loved ones grew concerned when they read online reports from Canada of 11 Indian nationals who tragically attempted to illegally cross the border into the United States in a -35C snowstorm overnight.

Winter weather and vast expanses make patrolling the Canada-US border challenging

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U.S. Border Patrol agents Katy Siemer (left) and David Marcus stand outside the Customs and Border Protection facility in Pembina, ND, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, not far from location where officers intercepted a group of undocumented Indian nationals on January 19. The incident led to the discovery north of the border of the bodies of four other Indian migrants who allegedly tried to enter the United States with the rest of the group. THE CANADIAN PRESS/James McCarten

Job : 10:47 a.m. January 26, 2022

SAINT VINCENT, Minnesota – A grim panorama of frozen, windswept prairie stretches in all directions behind Katy Siemer as she points north past a grove of bare trees to a compressor station in pipeline a few hundred meters in Manitoba.

The US Border Patrol agent stands next to a similar facility in Minnesota that she says undocumented migrants use as a meeting place when sneaking in from Canada, usually under the cover of the darkness.

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The frozen bodies of a family of four were found 10 kilometers east of Emerson, Manitoba on the afternoon of January 19 after seven undocumented survivors, all suffering from frostbite and varying degrees of hypothermia, were recovered by US Border Patrol agents directly opposite. the Minnesota border.

The bodies had not been formally identified on Wednesday.

Jaswant Patel told the Free press he doesn’t know if his cousin’s family are among the migrants who made the perilous journey in a human smuggling operation.

After asking Indian government officials to find the missing family, relatives are waiting for diplomats from the High Commission in Ottawa to relay the information.

“My cousin is missing but I haven’t received any official confirmation,” Jaswant Patel, who lives in Dingucha, wrote in a WhatsApp message.

A photo released by Indian media shows a bespectacled Jagdish Patel standing next to his smiling wife, who is cradling their son in her arms. The boy clutches a cell phone, while his older sister smiles looking at the camera.

Desperate for answers, Jaswant Patel wanted to know when the Manitoba RCMP will confirm the identities of the four victims.

“Can you help me or is it really my family or someone else?” he asked a reporter. “Please help me find the right information.”

If it’s not his family, his search will continue.

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Julie Courchaine said autopsies began on Wednesday and it could be days before the results are revealed.

“Formal identification is still pending. When we have more information to share, we will let you know,” she wrote in an email.

The RCMP is working with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and officials from the Indian Consulate in Toronto to identify the bodies and notify next of kin.

When the deaths were announced last week, RCMP said the victims were a man, woman, infant and teenager, according to an initial assessment. The information does not correspond to the composition of the Patel family, of which the eldest is a girl and the youngest is not a baby.

The RCMP acknowledged that details about the gender and age of the victims could change once autopsies are completed.

Police have refused to be drawn into Indian media speculation that the Patels are among the migrants involved in the tragedy.


Jagdish Patel, his wife Vaishali, daughter Vihanga, 12, and son Dharmik, 3, have been without news for almost two weeks.  (Photo courtesy of Amrut Patel)

Jagdish Patel, his wife Vaishali, daughter Vihanga, 12, and son Dharmik, 3, have been without news for almost two weeks. (Photo courtesy of Amrut Patel)

“We are aware that some media outlets are publishing the possible identities of the four victims,” ​​a news release said Monday. “As law enforcement, we will not be able to confirm these names until we are 100% certain of their identity and notification of next of kin is complete.”

Dingucha resident Amrut Patel, who knows Jagdish Patel’s father, said the missing man told relatives he had obtained visitor visas to enter Canada.

There was no mention of travel plans to the United States

“After that he was lost. His father did not get any information from him,” Amrut Patel told the Free press in a telephone interview. “The family is deeply worried because they don’t have all the information.”

He doesn’t think Jagdish or Vaishali have any relatives in Canada.

Reporters from India’s national media descended on Dingucha to speak to relatives and find out why the Patel family left.

Located in the western state of Gujarat, the sleepy village is home to more than 3,000 people, many of whom work in agriculture, according to Indian census data.

The surviving migrants speak Gujarati, a language native to the state.

One of the migrants told border officials the family of four got separated in the dark and brutal winter conditions, as the larger group walked for more than 11 hours.

Along with a suspected smuggler, the seven were arrested by U.S. Border Patrol agents near St. Vincent, Minnesota on the morning of January 19. Migrants wore new winter clothes.

A woman hospitalized with severe frostbite was at risk of having part of her hand amputated, according to a court document.

One of the migrants told border officials the family of four got separated in the dark and brutal winter conditions, as the larger group walked for more than 11 hours, according to an affidavit.

This sparked the search which ended tragically a few hours later.

The migrant was carrying a backpack belonging to the family. It contained children’s clothes and medicine, a diaper and toys.

Another migrant said he entered Canada on a fraudulent student visa and was on his way to meet his family in Chicago.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has initiated deportation proceedings.

“The seven migrants who entered the United States illegally last week were subject to administrative removal proceedings and/or were subject to deportation proceedings pursuant to the immigration and nationality,” spokesperson Kris Grogan wrote in an email.


Steve Shand is accused of transporting or attempting to transport illegal aliens.  (Facebook)

Steve Shand is accused of transporting or attempting to transport illegal aliens. (Facebook)

Steve Shand, 47, a resident of Deltona, Florida, was reportedly tasked with picking up the migrants. Two were with him in a rental van when he was arrested, according to the affidavit.

A judge agreed on Monday to release him. He is accused of transporting or attempting to transport illegal aliens.

No one has been charged in the four deaths in Manitoba.

More than 125 people from Canada and India took part in a virtual prayer service for the four victims on Monday.

It was co-hosted by Winnipegger Ash Patel, who moved to Canada from Gujarat about 18 years ago.

“We prayed for them to rest in peace and for God to give strength to their family members,” he said. “Everyone was in shock when they heard this news (about the deaths).”

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Twitter: @chriswitching

Christina A. Kroll