(Akwesasne Mohawk Reserve) “Help!” ” ” Help ! “: Danielle Oakes will never forget these cries, which she claims to have heard in the middle of the night from Wednesday to Thursday on the river opposite her home. And two days after the tragedy, she wonders why her appeal to the authorities was not taken more seriously.
During the night of Wednesday to Thursday, two police officers from the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service reportedly went to Danielle Oakes’ home because of calls for help heard from the river, she told La Presse. However, the search did not begin until the next day.
The Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service had not responded to our requests for information at the time of publishing.
A resident of the Snye sector of Akwesasne, this Mohawk community that straddles Quebec, Ontario and New York State, Danielle Oakes lives above the Tackle Box, a small business adjacent to a marina.
In front of his business, the St. Lawrence, interrupted on the right by Île Jaune and, straight ahead, Île Saint-Régis. It was in these areas that the bodies of eight migrants were found on Thursday and Friday, including two toddlers.
The identities of four of the victims were made public on Saturday. They are Florin Iordache and Cristina Zenaida Iordache, both 28 years old and from Romania, and their two children aged 2 and 1, in possession of Canadian passports.
Their companions in misfortune would be nationals of India, but their identity has not been revealed.
Authorities say the territory’s unique geography makes it a popular spot for smugglers. Police have made 48 separate interceptions involving 80 people trying to enter the United States illegally since January.
Danielle Oakes was getting ready to go to bed Wednesday night, on a windy, stormy night, when she cracked open her window to bid the “great river” good night, as she does every night, she says.
“That’s when I heard them: people screaming ‘Help! Help !” “, she adds, pointing straight ahead, in the direction of Saint-Régis Island and the arm of the river leading to Cornwall Island, northwest of her home. The sounds were muffled by the storm, but quite distinct, she says.
These cries shook her so much that she collapsed on the floor, before contacting the authorities. “I called them saying there were people on the river, screaming for help,” the 50-year-old recalled.
Then she went to pick up her son, Tyson Oakes, who lives next door. Together, standing on the terrace facing the river, they tried to make contact with people using an emergency whistle and a lantern.
“The weather was really bad, so we couldn’t go [to their rescue]”, explains Tyson Oakes, also met by La Presse on the spot. He himself did not hear any screams. “I think it was too late when I arrived,” he lamented.
Note that the family is not closely related to Casey Oakes, the man who disappeared Wednesday evening. “He’s a distant cousin,” Danielle Oakes pointed out.
Officers from the Akwesasne Police Department rushed to Ms. Oakes’ home after her call, she said. But she feels she was not taken seriously.
“One policeman went to the store, and the other to the waterfront, and when they saw nothing, they left after a few minutes telling her to call back, if she heard anything else. Ms. Oakes sensed they were condescending and didn’t believe her,” Keith Gordon said over the phone. This lawyer who works in Akwesasne was contacted by Ms. Oakes on Friday. Her testimony to Me Gordon is consistent with that she gave to La Presse.
Authorities said they only started the search on Thursday and have not spoken publicly about the call.
Three other members of the community then wrote to him on Facebook to say that they too had heard screams on the river that night, several hours apart.
At least one other person contacted the authorities, according to Gordon.
” I wonder why ? Why were emergency protocols not followed? Could these people have been saved, these babies? she asks herself. “It’s awful, because regardless of nationality, everyone deserves the same respect. »
Danielle Oakes is far from the only one to be upset by the tragedy, La Presse could see on Saturday by meeting several residents.
“It’s really sad, it’s heartbreaking and it’s very hard to take in,” said Barbara Oakes Cook, who she met at the convenience store in Snye, the area of Akwesasne where the bodies were found.
“Our waters [the St. Lawrence River] are connected everywhere, and we use them mainly for survival, with fishing,” she explains. And that’s something that should never happen. These people lost their lives hoping for a better life in another country. »
“I’m angry and sad,” said Cornwall Island resident Peggy Lazore. It was on the eastern tip of this island that Casey Oakes, a 30-year-old man from the community still missing, was last seen. “It’s especially sad for babies,” she adds.
The search continued on Saturday on the St. Lawrence, in particular to find Casey Oakes. The Sûreté du Québec came to the assistance of the local police with divers and, at the end of the afternoon, a helicopter.
Mohawk police have so far made no direct connection between the deaths of the eight migrants and the disappearance of Mr. Oakes, who was last seen Wednesday putting a boat in the water east of the Cornwall Island. The boat, which belonged to him, was found overturned the next day next to the bodies of the migrants.