Four people, including an infant, are dead after attempting to cross into the U.S. near the Emerson border crossing.
A Florida man is in custody after a family of four perished in harsh conditions, and many others trekked more than 11 hours in winter storm conditions.
The District of Minnesota's United States Attorney's Office says a 47-year-odl American is being charged with one count of knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien had come to, entered, or remained in the United States in violation of law, having transported, and moved or having attempted to transport and move such aliens.
RCMP Manitoba says that they were contacted by officers from the United States at 9:23 a.m. on Wednesday in regards to a group of people they had taken into custody after they illegally crossed into the U.S.
The officers from the U.S. said that among the items found on the people in the group were items meant for an infant, but no infant was with the group.
"Upon receiving this information at 9:23 a.m., a search was immediately launched on both sides of the border," the RCMP says in a release.
Fearing there may be others, officers already on patrol began to search the area one minute later, at 9:24 a.m., along with authorities on the American side of the border. After extensive patrols in what Assistant Commissioner Jane Maclatchy described as very challenging conditions.
"It's very difficult terrain," she says in the Thursday press conference. "When they originally started the search, they realized very quickly that the snow was very deep and drifted in spots. They needed all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, those sorts of things."
Mounties found three bodies on the Canadian side of the border around 1:30 p.m., including the infant, following an extensive search. An adult male and adult female were also discovered approximately 10km east of Emerson.
Police continued to search the area and located another deceased male. The RCMP says they believe he was in his mid-teens.
All victims were located approximately 12 metres from the US/Canada border, the release says.
"At this very early stage of the investigation, it appears that they all died due to exposure to the cold weather. Work is underway to identify the victims and an autopsy has been scheduled to confirm the cause of death."
Police continued to search throughout Wednesday evening for more victims, as well as Thursday. There are no other victims in the area.
"The RCMP will be conducting a thorough investigation and is working in close collaboration with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security," the release says.
"All of our agencies are committed to a thorough and comprehensive investigation."
Assistant Commissioner Jane Maclatchy, Commanding Officer of “D” Division, is offering her condolences, as well as on behalf of the RCMP, to any family member and loved one affected by the "absolutely heart-breaking tragedy."
Police believe the victims died due to exposure to the cold weather. Based on the terrain and where the group was found, Maclatchy surmised there was no nearby shelter available for them to take refuge in.
"As you can imagine too, if this happened the night before last...sometime during the night we think...but the winds were severe; blowing snow, whiteout conditions, severely cold. If you're in that situation and you're disoriented, you might have shelter a hundred meters away and you can't see it. It's just tragic. It's really really sad."
Work is underway to identify the victims, and an autopsy has been scheduled to confirm the cause of death. Investigators don't know how long the victims were exposed to the elements but Maclatchy says she'd been told that they were wearing outdoor winter clothing.
"At forty below, the temperatures are just so extreme that it would be pretty hard to be wearing anything appropriate for that," added Maclatchy.
A search of the area continues today but noted at this time, there is no indication there is anyone else. Additionally, investigators couldn't confirm whether the group apprehended earlier by U.S. authorities is connected to the victims.
Meantime, Maclatchy said investigators are quite concerned that this crossing may have been facilitated in some way.
"These individuals, including an infant, were left on their own in the middle of a blizzard and the weather hovered around minus thirty-five degrees Celsius," she explained. "These victims faced not only the cold weather but endless fields, large snowdrifts...we don't know how the individuals got there but our investigators are certainly going to look at every aspect."
Criminal charges could be laid.
"There's a multitude of things you could look at in the Criminal Code that could be relevant to this case," she said. "I don't want to speculate at this point at what charges might happen."
In February of 2017, Emerson made international headlines as people from the United States were crossing into Canada on foot, with some losing appendages from the cold. McClatchy says in the last two years, border crossings on foot have been rare, and crossing out of Canada even rarer.
With files from Taylor Brock