Police in Akwesasne announced Friday that a local man who had been sought since his boat was discovered in March near the bodies of eight migrants in the St. Lawrence River has been found dead.
The Akwesasne Mohawk Police said the Quebec coroner’s office identified a body found earlier this month in the river as 30-year-old Casey Oakes.
The Indigenous police force said in a statement it had no further information The investigation into the deaths of Oakes and the eight migrants is ongoing.
Oakes was last seen the night before the first victims were discovered, operating a boat that was found near their bodies. Police said the migrants died while trying to cross illegally into the United States through Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, which straddles provincial and international boundaries and includes regions of Quebec, Ontario and New York state.
Authorities say Akwesasne’s geography makes it a popular spot for smugglers of humans and contraband.
Oakes’s body was found on the afternoon of July 3 near Ross Island, just over three months after the migrants were found.
The migrants were pulled from the St. Lawrence River in Akwesasne, about 130 kilometres southwest of Montreal, on March 30 and 31. Authorities found the bodies of five adults and one child on the first day and an adult woman and a second child the day after.
Four of the migrants were from India, and four were of Romanian descent.
The four deceased Indians were members of the Chaudhari family from the western Indian state of Gujarat. They included the father, Praveenbhai Chaudhari, 50; mother, Dakshaben, 45; son, Meet, 20; and daughter, Vidhi, 23.
The Romanian family was identified as Florin Iordache, 28; his wife, Cristina (Monalisa) Zenaida Iordache, 28; their two-year-old daughter, Evelin; and one-year-old son, Elyen. Both children were Canadian citizens.
Oakes was never charged in connection with the ill-fated crossing attempt, but Akwesasne police said in April that investigators believed he was “connected to the eight deceased victims.” They suspended their search for Oakes in local waterways on April 6.
In India, local police in the city of Mehsana, Gujarat, have been searching for three men who allegedly ran an immigration brokerage firm used to enter countries with fake documents.
A report filed in India alleges the brokers received the equivalent of about $100,000 from the Chaudhari family to help them cross into the United States by taxi. At the last minute, it says, the Indian family members were reluctantly convinced to travel by boat instead and were reassured there would be no problems, despite poor weather in the area.