Police identify two of eight migrants pulled from water near Akwesasne, Que.
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QUEBEC – The Akwesasne Mohawk Police identified two of the eight migrants whose bodies were pulled from the St. Lawrence River earlier this week, but said Saturday they’re still searching for a local resident whose boat was found near the victims.
An afternoon Facebook update from the force said one of the adult males, identified as 28-year-old Florin Iordache, was carrying Canadian passports for a one-year-old and a two-year-old child, both of whom were previously recovered.
They also identified one of the adult females as Cristina (Monalisa) Zenaida Iordache, who was also 28.
The identities of four Indian nationals have not yet been confirmed and their families have not yet been notified, the update read.
In a separate Facebook post released on Saturday, Police said they are still looking for 30-year-old Akwesasne resident Casey Oakes, who was last seen Wednesday night operating a boat that was found next to the migrants’ bodies the following day, but they have not made any direct connections between Oakes and the deaths. Some items of clothing that belong to Oakes have also been found, police added.
The update also noted that police found a male inside a cabin on St. Regis Island, but can’t say yet whether he’s connected to the ongoing investigation.
“The local waterways are continued to be searched. Police estimate that there are eight kilometres of waterway to search,” police wrote.
Akwesasne straddles the Canada-U.S. border, with parts of the territory in Ontario, Quebec and New York state. The streets inside and areas surrounding the community were quiet on Saturday, with few visible signs of the ongoing search.
Val Gray, owner of the Three Feathers Internet Cafe, said the community was saddened by the unfolding tragedy.
“People are just sad about the event and they are just hoping that they can recover everyone who has been involved in the accident,” Gray said in an interview.
The bodies of five adults and one child were found in a marshy area on Thursday and the bodies of a second child and an adult woman were recovered on Friday.
Close to 40 first responders are involved in the search, police said, including Akwesasne officers, RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police, Quebec provincial police and the Hogansburg Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Department from New York.
Gray said while she doesn’t know Oakes, she does know his father who is a community member and one of her cafe’s customers.
She said her business was hired by the Mohawk council to make sure all of the volunteer searchers were fed. Gray said the cafe had provided breakfast sandwiches for the past two days, as well as supper on Friday.
“The community is pulling together and everybody is being supportive of each other in one way or another, whether it be volunteering at the main (search) site or other businesses donating … to the searchers,” said Gray. “That’s what this community is about, no matter what everybody is always there to help.”
A few of the volunteers could be seen gathered at the Hogansburg, N.Y., Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Department on Saturday, while police blocked off access to the marina where they had set up a command post. When approached, officials and searchers declined to comment on whether any progress had been made.
The search continued until sunset Saturday and was set to resume on Sunday morning.
Authorities have said the territory’s unique geography makes it a popular spot for human smugglers, with police making 48 separate interceptions involving 80 people trying to enter the United States illegally since January. Most of them have been of Indian or Romanian descent.
In February, police in Akwesasne reported an increase in human smuggling into the Mohawk territory.
In April 2022, six Indian nationals were rescued from a sinking boat in the St. Regis River, which runs through the territory. A seventh person, spotted leaving the vessel and wading ashore, was later identified as a U.S. citizen. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials described what happened as a human smuggling incident.
Oakes was charged last year with two criminal counts: dangerous operation of a conveyance and assault with a weapon. He is scheduled to return to court in Valleyfield, Que., at the end of May in connection with that case, which was investigated by police in Akwesasne.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2023.
— With files from Keith Doucette in Halifax and Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version used the name Florin Lordache, as provided by police. The male victim’s name is, in fact, Florin Iordache.