A second investigative front is developing into the drowning deaths of six foreign nationals and two Canadian children in the St. Lawrence River.
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a U.S. federal agency focused on transnational crime, has opened a “parallel investigation” into the wider network that may have facilitated the ill-fated cross-border human smuggling attempt.
HSI initiated the investigation at the request of Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service (AMPS), according to an AMPS statement emailed to CBC News.
AMPS revealed the request to HSI as it expanded its own investigation into the suspected network that arranged for the transport of four Indian nationals and a Romanian couple with two Canadian children across the St. Lawrence River.
AMPS has used warrants to seize two vehicles from different parts of the territory and investigators have identified persons of interest.
“A criminal investigation is being conducted by the Akwesasne Mohawk Police who have identified persons of interest that have yet to comply with requests by investigators to come forth on their own will,” said the statement.
“This has not halted the investigation as police continue to learn about the events leading up to the tragic drowning of the victims.”
WATCH | The search continues:
River was too rough: community members
It’s believed the eight individuals boarded a boat on the night of March 29 to cross the St. Lawrence River with the aim of entering the U.S.
Some community members have told CBC News the boat should not have launched that evening because the river was too rough due to inclement weather.
International networks are known to use the borderland regions between Ontario-Quebec and New York State to smuggle people into the U.S. Akwesasne, a Haudenosaunee community divided by the Canada-U.S. border, sits about 120 kilometres west of Montreal, and is one of the areas targeted by human smuggling networks.
Akwesasne police say they’ve recorded 48 incidents involving about 80 people trying to cross the Canada-U.S. border irregularly through the territory since January.
The majority of individuals attempting crossings through Akwesasne are Indian or Romanian nationals, according to police.
Akwesanse once depended on fishing and farming, but the construction of the St. Lawerence Seaway and industrial development in the region destroyed an abundant fishery and poisoned the local environment.
AMPS said in the statement the search continues for 30-year-old Akwesasne member Casey Oakes. Oakes has been connected to the failed human smuggling attempt.
He was last seen boarding a light blue boat on the eastern portion of Cornwall Island, which is part of Akwesasne, and sits in the St. Lawrence River across from Cornwall, Ont. Community members have told CBC News they don’t believe Oakes owned his own boat.
AMPS said in a statement that searches through the water and over land have only located “footwear” belonging to Oakes.
“No other items were found by the search team that could be associated to Casey Oakes,” noted the statement.