Search for Man Continues After Police Pull Eight Bodies From Waters Near Akwesasne

Search for Man Continues After Police Pull Eight Bodies From Waters Near Akwesasne
Searchers look for victims Mar. 31, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz)
The Canadian Press
Searchers continued to look in a marshy area of the St. Lawrence River on Saturday for a man missing from a nearby Mohawk community after pulling the bodies of eight migrants from the chilly waters earlier this week.

Authorities provided no updates in their hunt for 30-year-old Casey Oakes, who was last seen Wednesday night operating a boat that was found next to the migrants’ bodies the following day. Police have not made any direct connections between Oakes and the deaths.

Akwesasne Mohawk Police said they are working with Immigration Canada and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to confirm the identities of the eight migrants.

Akwesasne straddles the Canada-U.S. border, with parts of the territory in Ontario, Quebec and New York state. The streets inside and areas surrounding the community were quiet on Saturday, with few visible signs of the ongoing search.

Val Gray, owner of the Three Feathers Internet Cafe, said the community had been saddened by the unfolding tragedy.

“People are just sad about the event and they are just hoping that they can recover everyone who has been involved in the accident,” Gray said in an interview.

The bodies of five adults and one child were found in a marshy area on Thursday and the bodies of a second child and an adult woman were recovered on Friday. One of the children was a Canadian citizen, and the victims are believed to be of Romanian and Indian descent.

Gray said while she doesn’t know Oakes, she does know his father who is a community member and one of her cafe’s customers.

She said her business was hired by the Mohawk council to make sure all of the volunteer searchers were fed. Gray said the cafe had provided breakfast sandwiches for the past two days, as well as supper on Friday.

“The community is pulling together and everybody is being supportive of each other in one way or another, whether it be volunteering at the main (search) site or other businesses donating … to the searchers,” said Gray. “That’s what this community is about, no matter what everybody is always there to help.”

A few of the volunteers could be seen gathered at the Hogansburg, N.Y., Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Department on Saturday, while police blocked off access to the marina where they had set up a command post. When approached, officials and searchers declined to comment on whether any progress had been made.

Authorities have said the territory’s unique geography makes it a popular spot for human smugglers, with police making 48 separate interceptions involving 80 people trying to enter the United States illegally since January. Most of them have been of Indian or Romanian descent.

In February, police in Akwesasne reported an increase in human smuggling into the Mohawk territory.

In April 2022, six Indian nationals were rescued from a sinking boat in the St. Regis River, which runs through the territory. A seventh person, spotted leaving the vessel and wading ashore, was later identified as a U.S. citizen. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials described what happened as a human smuggling incident.

Oakes was charged last year with two criminal counts: dangerous operation of a conveyance and assault with a weapon. He is scheduled to return to court in Valleyfield, Que., at the end of May in connection with that case, which was investigated by police in Akwesasne.