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Police sources in India identify 3 people found dead in St. Lawrence River near Akwesasne

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Police sources in India have provided the names of three family members who were among eight people who died after trying to cross the St. Lawrence River Thursday into the United States near Akwesasne — a community that straddles Quebec, Ontario and New York state.

A source identified one woman as Vidhiben Pravinkumar Chaudhari, 24, and two men as Pravinbhai Veljibhai Chaudhari, 50, and Mitkumar Pravinbhai Chaudhari, 20. The next of kin in India have been notified, the source said.

Sources told CBC News that the three family members are 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 Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service have said four Indian nationals who were recovered from the river are believed to be a family. The identity of the fourth Indian national is unconfirmed at this time.

Eight people were found in a marsh on the riverbank. 

On Saturday, police identified two people of Romanian descent who were recovered from the river as 28-year-old Florin Iordache and 28-year-old Cristina (Monalisa) Zenaida Iordache.

Police said Florin 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 also recovered.

Romanian man set to be deported

CBC News has learned that Florin Iordache had his asylum application to Canada refused and was set to be deported.   

Public federal documents show that he had applied for a pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA) — one of the safeguards in place to ensure people in need of protection are not removed — which had also been denied. 

Documents show he was seeking a judicial review of the refusal for his PRRA. 

“The pre-removal risk assessment is basically the last chance to persuade an immigration officer that the person has a continuing risk if returned to their country,” said immigration lawyer Max Berger in an interview with CBC News. 

Berger said a person’s removal is put on hold until there’s a decision in the PRRA. Once the PRRA is refused, then the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is able to remove or deport them.

“In this case, it’s possible that CBSA was starting to make removal arrangements for this family or perhaps, they themselves saw the writing on the wall and thought they had better options in America,” he said.

Two pictures, both of a man pictured with two children. One is at Chuck E. Cheese and the other is in a home in front of a Christmas tree.
Florin Iordache, 28, is pictured with his two children. The bodies of Florin, his two children and their mother, 28-year-old Cristina (Monalisa) Zenaida Iordache, were recovered from the St. Lawrence River this week. (Submitted by the family)

Family members told CBC News Saturday they hadn’t heard from the family of four in a week and that they knew they were planning to come to the U.S. to join family in Orlando, Fla.

They said a close relative, who hasn’t seen the family in about six years, was supposed to pick them up in New York.

CBC News has spoken with a relative in Orlando who said Florin and his family had been in Canada for about a year and a half and were living in Toronto. They described Florin and his wife as a very happy and close family who loved their children. 

The relative said the extended family was looking forward to being reunited and holding the children in their arms. They now want to find a way to repatriate their bodies to Romania. 

On Sunday, Akwesasne police continued their search for a local man whose boat was found close to where the bodies were recovered from the water. 

Photo of bearded man with hat and sweater in front of a yellow background.
Casey Oakes, 30, is still missing. Oakes was last seen Wednesday night boarding a small, light-blue vessel leaving Cornwall Island.  (Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service)

The service issued a statement saying a search would continue until sunset for 30-year-old Akwesasne resident Casey Oakes, whom officers have been seeking since Thursday. 

Oakes was last seen Wednesday night boarding a small, light-blue vessel leaving Cornwall Island. 

Akwesasne officials have not made any direct connection between Oakes and the deaths.

‘Tragic, emotional toll’ 

Luke Lezore, a local former firefighter, says the tragedy has left people in the Kanien’kehá:ka community reeling, including himself, as he’s been forced to recall haunting memories about his time working with the fire department. 

“We did a lot of searching like that and there was a lot of bodies we recovered from the river,” he said. “It was a pretty tragic, emotional toll on you.” 

Authorities have said 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.

Lezore — who referred to human smuggling in the area as a “judicial nightmare” — says despite years of seeing the same types of deaths occur on the river, he doesn’t believe anything will change. 

“I think it’s going to go on the way it is,” he said. “People are still going to be coming across trying to get that money to bring people across.”