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/or loved one affected by what she referred to Thursday morning as an 'absolutely heart-breaking tragedy'.
MacLatchy made the comments during a late morning news conference confirming the discovery of four people found dead Wednesday, about 40 feet from the Canada/U.S. border near Emerson.
According to RCMP, U.S. authorities notified the Integrated Border Enforcement Team at 9:23 a.m. on Wednesday that U.S. Customs and Border Protection had apprehended a group of people who had crossed the border from Canada into
the United States. That information also indicated one of the adults had items meant for an infant, but there was no infant with the group. 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 MacLatchy described as 'very challenging conditions', the bodies of three people were found on the Canadian side, about 10km east of Emerson, at around 1:30 p.m. They are an adult male, and adult female and an infant. The body of a male believed to be in his mid-teens was found a short while later.
"It's very difficult terrain," she noted. "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."
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. MacLatchy noted, at this time, investigators don't know how long the victims were exposed to the elements but said she'd been told that they were wearing outdoor winter clothing.
"But again, at forty below the temperatures are just so extreme that it would be pretty hard to be wearing anything appropriate for that," added MacLatchy
RCMP confirmed late Thursday afternoon that a complete grid search of the area had been completed, adding no other victims were found.
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 snow drifts...we don't know how the individuals got there but our investigators are certainly going to look at every aspect."
Criminal charges are possible for the person or people connected to this, if there are any, noted MacLatchy
"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."