British Columbia

Family, communities react as hunt for B.C. suspects comes to an end

Mother of victim Chynna Deese says she is "speechless" at the news that the fugitives suspected in her daughter's slaying have been found dead in Manitoba.

Mother of victim 'speechless' at the news that the fugitives' bodies have been found

The bodies of tourists Chynna Deese and Lucas Fowler, left, were found near Liard Hot Springs, B.C., on July 15. University lecturer Leonard Dyck, right, was found dead four days later near Dease Lake, B.C. (New South Wales Police; University of British Columbia)

The mother of Chynna Deese says she is "speechless" after hearing that two bodies found near Gillam, Manitoba, on Wednesday are likely those of the men suspected in her daughter's slaying.

Sheila Deese reacted with the single word when contacted by CBC News after the Manitoba RCMP announced that the nationwide hunt for fugitives Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky had come to an end.

McLeod, 19, and Schmegelsky, whose 19th birthday was on Sunday, were wanted in the killing of Deese, 24, an American, and her boyfriend Lucas Fowler, 23, an Australian. Deese and Fowler's bodies were found near Liard Hot Springs in northern B.C. on July 15.

McLeod and Schmegelsky were also charged with second-degree murder in the death of UBC botany lecturer Leonard Dyck, 64, whose body was found July 19 along Highway 37 outside of Dease Lake. 

Claudia Bunce, owner of the Cassiar Mountain Jade Store, broke into sobs describing her reaction to the news.

McLeod and Schmegelsky had stopped at her store the day before Dyck's body was found 115 kilometres away.

An expanse of Highway 37 leading to Iskut and Dease Lake, B.C. (Jason Proctor/CBC)

"I feel like we're all victims," said Bunce. "I don't know if we'll ever really know what happened, or understand it. I just feel bad for everybody."

Sense of relief, closure

At Iskut First Nation, less than 20 kilometres from the Dyck murder scene, band member Jodi Payne described a sense of relief and closure in the community.

"When the suspects weren't found, there was still fear. [We wondered] would they be travelling back here, where are they," she said. 

"All of our community members followed [the search] closely, looking for updates, because we had a lot of unanswered questions."

Payne said the murders put a scare into the town's residents, prompting them to lock their doors, watch children closely and take notice of strangers. 

Bunce described a similar unease in her community, and the deep sense of grief she is feeling.

A surveillance camera at a gas station in Fort Nelson, B.C., captured this last image of Fowler and Deese hugging in the days before they were killed. (RCMP)

"I think there's a lot of people who will take a while to recover from this," she said.

"It ends one thing and creates another. I have three sons and I would never want this news. I feel so bad for the parents."

Sharie Minions, the mayor of Port Alberni, B.C., where McLeod and Schmegelsky were from, said the news has shaken the community, describing it as a "difficult day."

"It's definitely not the outcome that we had hoped for," Minions said. 

"This is a really difficult thing for any community to go through and we want to make sure that people are supported in whatever way they can be."

The past few weeks has seen the community come together, she said, and they've received messages of support from across the country.

Note outside Schmegelsky home asks for privacy

CBC News reached out the families of McLeod and Schmegelsky but did not hear back.

A sheet of paper taped to the front door of the Schmegelsky's home asked for privacy from the media.

It reads in part,"'you have become a nuisance to us and our neighbours," and says the family will not be making any statement. It was not signed or attributed to a specific person.

An unsigned sheet of paper taped to the front door of the Schmegelsky family's home asks for privacy from the media. (CHEK News)

On Twitter, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale praised the work of the RCMP and the Canadian Forces in finding the fugitives.  

"May it help provide closure for the victims' families and peace-of-mind in these communities," he said.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Bryer Schmegelsky's birthday was Aug. 5 when in fact, according to a self-published book by his father Alan Schmegelsky, he was born Aug. 4, 2000.
    Aug 08, 2019 1:47 PM PT

About the Author

Karin Larsen

@CBCLarsen

Karin Larsen is a former Olympian and award winning sports broadcaster covering BC teams and athletes for 25 years.

With files from Jean Paetkau, Austin Grabish and Tanya Fletcher