8 bodies found in Akwesasne

Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 9:14 AM EDT
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AKWESASNE (WWNY) - The police agency that patrols the Canadian side of Akwesasne is investigating the deaths of eight people whose bodies were found in the St. Lawrence River in the Quebec part of the territory Thursday evening.

What started out as a search for a missing man who took a boat onto the river Wednesday led to the discovery of the bodies of six adults and two children, one of them an infant. The CBC reports that one of the victims is a child with a Canadian passport. The deceased are reported to be from two families; one Indian and one Romanian.

The man who was reported initially missing is still missing, police say. Witnesses tell various media that the weather was not good Wednesday when the small boat was launched, and when found, the boat had a dent in it like it hit ice or a rock.

In a Facebook post, Akwesasne Mohawk Police say the first body was located around 5 p.m. in a marsh area in Snye during an air search they conducted along with the Canadian Coast Guard.

The CBC also reported that the search began after a helicopter crew spotted an overturned boat in Canadian waters.

Police continued to search the area with help from both the Coast Guard and the Hogansburg Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Department.

Police say they will ask air support units from the Sûreté du Québec and the Ontario Provincial Police to help with the investigation.

Akwesasne Mohawk Police Deputy Chief Lee-Anne O’Brien is quoted in the Toronto Star that her force had been involved in 48 human smuggling incidences so far this year, and confirmed the majority of those incidents were of Romanian or Indian nationalities.

7 News spoke with Abram Benedict, the Grand Chief for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, the community where the deaths happened.

“Both countries need to take a look at their immigration policies. We can’t have individuals and families trying to enter into either country illegally and unsafely. This is super tragic. These folks were in search of a better life, and as a result, an entire family has passed away,” said Benedict.

Police don’t believe this incident has anything to do with the recent immigration agreement between Canada and the U.S., which closed unofficial ports of entry to would-be refugees seeking asylum in Canada, specifically the Roxham Road irregular crossing, because the people were leaving Canada and coming to the U.S.

Akwesasne lies in Ontario, Quebec, and New York state.

The cause of death is pending post-mortem and toxicology tests. The victims have not been publicly identified.

Police say there is no threat to the public.