KINGSTON, Ont. – A man, his wife and their son are charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of three Montreal sisters and their caregiver, who were found dead in a submerged car near Kingston, Ont.
The bodies of the three teenaged sisters and the 50-year-old woman were found in the car in the Rideau Canal on June 30.
Kingston police Chief Stephen Tanner told a news conference this afternoon he was saddened at the “needless and senseless loss of innocent human lives,” in what he described as a case of domestic violence.
The girls’ father, Mohammed Shafi, had told police the deaths occurred as the family was headed home after vacationing in Niagara Falls and had stopped for the night at a Kingston hotel.
He said the family was traveling in two cars and that he awoke to find one car missing. He reported the car missing to police and said his eldest daughter was known to take the family car without permission or a licence.
Police said their investigation proved that allegation to be false, and that in fact all three accused had operated the vehicle that wound up in the canal.
The three accused have also been charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
Police identified for the first time that the caregiver was in fact Shafi’s first wife. Shafi had told police she was his cousin.
Police held a moment of silence for the victims at the beginning of the news conference.
“All shared the rights within our great country to live without fear, to enjoy safety and freedom … and yet had their lives cut short by members of their own family,” said Tanner, before asking for the silent tribute to the four female victims.
The accused are Mohammed Shafi, his wife Touba Yahya Shafi and his 18-year-old son Hamed Shafi.
The victims are Zainab Shafi, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, along with Rona Amir Mohammed.
The family, originally from Kabul, Afghanistan, spent 15 years in Dubai before moving to Montreal two years ago.
In the immediate aftermath of the drownings, the surviving Shafis had grieved their loss openly and shared family photographs with the reporters they allowed into their home.
Both parents described the eldest, 19-year-old Zainab, as a rebellious young woman.
The family filed a missing-persons report with police, saying they couldn’t reach the missing family members by cellphone. The remaining Shafis then drove on to Montreal, saying they believed the other group had left without them in the second car.
Kingston police were baffled by how the submerged car left the roadway and ended up under about three metres of water in the Kingston Mills lock.
There were no skid marks and there were several obstacles that would have made it difficult for the car to fall into the canal.
Police said they weren’t certain who was in the driver’s seat but confirmed that all four females were still in the car when it was recovered.
The Nissan was first noticed by a lock worker early morning June 30. It had its front end up against the lock wall as if the vehicle had plunged in backwards.
Autopsy results have not been made public so far.