Police name 2 people recovered from St. Lawrence River, including man holding children's passports
4 Indian nationals still unidentified; police continue search for missing boater
Akwesasne officials have named two family members of Romanian descent — including a man holding his two children's passports — who were among eight bodies recovered this week from the St. Lawrence River, near the Quebec-Ontario border.
In a statement on Saturday, the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service said one man has been identified as 28-year-old Florin Iordache. Police said he had two Canadian passports in his possession — one for his two-year-old child and another for his one-year-old infant whose bodies were recovered.
One woman — Florin's wife and the children's mother — has also been identified as 28-year-old Cristina (Monalisa) Zenaida Iordache.
Police previously said they believed the four to be members of a Romanian family who were attempting to cross into the United States near the Kanien'kehá:ka community of Akwesasne — which straddles Quebec, Ontario and New York state.
Family members told CBC News Saturday they hadn't heard from the family in a week and that they knew they were planning to come to the U.S. to join family in Orlando, Fla.
The family in Orlando also confirmed to CBC News that Florin was traveling with his wife and two children. They now want to find a way to repatriate their bodies to their hometown in Romania.
On Saturday, police said that four Indian nationals, who they also believed were a family attempting to cross into the U.S., have not been identified.
A source with the police in India told CBC News that at least three of them are family members from Gujarat — the same state in India as the family who died trying to cross the Canada-U.S. border in Manitoba in 2022.
The source said the family members include a man in his 50s and a woman and man in their 20s. The age and gender of the fourth Indian national is unknown at this time.
The eight bodies were found in a marsh on the riverbank.
The news came as searchers battled poor weather and visibility on Saturday, as they continued to look for a missing boater on the St. Lawrence River.
Casey Oakes, 30, an Akwesasne resident, was last seen on Wednesday at about 9:30 p.m. ET, boarding a small, light-blue vessel leaving Cornwall Island. He was dressed in black, wearing a black face mask and a black tuque.
Akwesasne officials have not made any direct connection between the deaths and Oakes.
Valene Gray, owner of the Three Feathers Café, said the community has been shaken by the tragedy.
"In the past couple days, it's been very heavy, very emotional, customers coming in and they're sad," Gray said in an interview on Saturday. "You could tell they were upset, you could tell they were hurting."
Wanting to offer support to her community, Gray said it was an honour to be hired by the Mohawk council to make sure all of the volunteer searchers were fed. She said the café has provided breakfast sandwiches for the past two days and supper on Friday.
"It's very important to be supportive and to be a true community member," she said.
Popular spot for human smuggling, police say
A few of the volunteers could be seen gathered at the Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Department, in Hogansburg, N.Y., on Saturday, while police blocked off access to the marina, where a command post was set up.
Authorities say the territory's unique geography makes it a popular spot for human smugglers, with police making 48 separate interceptions this year. Most of those who try to enter the U.S. through the area are of Indian and Romanian descent.
In February, police in Akwesasne reported an increase in human smuggling into the Kanien'kehá:ka community.
Longtime community member Alex Burns said the river has been a prime area for smuggling for years because the "border is open."
"There's no customs here," he said.
Burns said he was once involved in smuggling alcohol because it was an easy way to make money, something he believes is the driving force behind the popularity of human smuggling.
People in the community "don't have any money, so $1,000 a head is like a million for them," he said.
"It's really tragic because people are still hard-strapped for money. There's a lot of businesses here that they can go work at, but they don't have the skills, a lot of them haven't graduated high school. They can't get jobs here because they don't have education."
Burns said it's up to authorities to figure out how to stop human smuggling to ensure tragedies like this don't happen again.
Gray, for her part, hopes the community can heal from this tragedy and not be tainted by it.
"We have a really good community, and I'm just hoping this tragic event doesn't keep a black eye on here because that's not what we're about," she said.
- A previous version of this story said that the four Indian nationals whose bodies were recovered were a family from Gujarat, according to a source with the police in India. The story has been updated to reflect that the source said at least three of them are family members from Gujarat.Apr 01, 2023 9:02 PM ET
With files from CBC's Katie Nicholson and Marisela Amador of The Canadian Press