Police say they are still searching for two people after six bodies were recovered from the St. Lawrence River near Akwesasne.
The six dead include five adults and one child under the age of three who had a Canadian passport, the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Services said in a media release on Friday morning. They are believed to be an Indian family and a Romanian family who were attempting to cross into the U.S. from Canada illegally, according to police.
Casey Oakes, 30, an Akwesasne resident, remains missing, police said. Oakes was last seen on Wednesday boarding a small, light blue vessel, leaving Cornwall Island. He was dressed in black, wearing a black face mask and a black tuque.
Also missing is an infant believed to be from the Romanian family.
Police located Oakes’s vessel near the six bodies, Lee-Ann O’Brien, the deputy chief of police for the Akwesasne Mohawk police service, said at a news conference. They also located a Canadian passport that they believe belongs to the missing infant, she said.
A storm that brought high winds and sleet rolled through the area on Wednesday night, O’Brien said. “It was not a good time to be out on the water,” she said.
Kevin Sturge Lazore, Captain of the Akwasasne Fire Department’s Station 3, which oversaw the search Thursday afternoon, mobilized 15 volunteer firefighters to search the river on Thursday after Oakes’s family reported him missing.
The firefighters found the boat, its hull dented on the bottom as if it had hit some ice or a rock, Lazore said.
He and O’Brien said the boat was small, and wouldn’t have been able to safely carry seven or eight people.
“What that boat could handle and the amount of people in it, it doesn’t make a pretty picture,” Lazore said. “The river is always the major concern. … Our elders tell us, always be careful. Especially in the spring, with the run-off, the current is stronger.”
It was a Canadian Armed Forces helicopter that found the lifeless bodies on Thursday, all of which had lifejackets on, according to Lazore.
Police said they are waiting on the results of a post-mortem and toxicology tests to determine the cause of death.
Quebec provincial police and the Ontario provincial police air support units are assisting with the search.
Akwesasne is a Mohawk community about 120 kilometres west of Montreal that straddles the Canada-U.S. border and occupies territory in Ontario, Quebec and New York state.