British Columbia

Questions abound in fugitives' hometown of Port Alberni

In the small city of Port Alberni, there are more questions than answers, as two young men from the community lead police on a nationwide manhunt.

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky left town in search of work but wound up subjects of a nationwide manhunt

Kam McLeod, left, and Bryer Schmegelsky grew up together in Port Alberni. (B.C. RCMP/Alan Schmegelsky)

Last week, people in Port Alberni were curious and concerned, as they learned that two young men from their community, Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, were somehow entwined in a mysterious series of events in Northern B.C.

At the time, they were considered missing, their burned-out camper truck found near Dease Lake. Nearby, a man — who has since been identified as Leonard Dyck of Vancouver — was found dead.

Days earlier and more than 470 kilometres away, American Chynna Deese and her boyfriend, Australian Lucas Fowler, were also found dead, the victims of homicide, according to police.

It was a troubling string of events, and for the community of Port Alberni, concern quickly shifted to shock and disbelief after police announced Tuesday that McLeod and Schmegelsky weren't missing persons — but suspects in the killing of three people.

'It's a scary thing'

"We all care about each other here and it's nothing you want to hear, ever," said Curtis Dewar, who worked with McLeod and Schmegelsky at the local Walmart.

"Especially when you know the names and you've seen them when you're growing up," said Dewar. "It's a scary thing, so I'm hoping we get the answers we're looking for."

Bryer Schmegelsky and his friend, Kam McLeod, worked at the Walmart in Port Alberni and, according to their families, left town in search of better work up north. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Port Alberni is a small city of little more than 17,000 people, situated at the end of a long inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The Paper Excellence mill is nestled right near the centre of town.

The city is large enough that most people don't know the fugitives personally — they were reportedly quite introverted — but Port Alberni is also small enough that the news of the manhunt and its local connection reverberates through the community.

According to Schmegelsky and McLeod's families, the two had been headed north in search of work.

Port Alberni is a small working city at the end of a long inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Hard on the families

Keith McLeod, Kam McLeod's father, expressed frustration at the number of media inquiries he's been getting this week, but on Wednesday shared an emailed statement with CBC News.

"I'm sitting at home worrying about my son. Relentless media hounding us for information that we don't have," he said.

"This is what I do know — Kam is a kind, considerate, caring young man [who] always has been concerned about other people's feelings," adding that the family is trying to wrap its heads around what is happening.

"[We] hope that Kam will come home to us safely, so we can all get to the bottom of this story," he said.

Bryer Schmegelsky often lived with his grandmother on this street in Port Alberni. (Rafferty Baker/ CBC)

Schmegelsky's family history is somewhat complicated. His parents split up in 2005, and he spent a lot of time living with his grandmother a couple blocks away from the Walmart where he recently worked.

Violent video games

Lisa Lucas, who lives a few doors down the street, said her son, Rylan Lucas, grew up playing with Schmegelsky. 

"He was a nice kid —very quiet, but after a while he just stopped coming around," said Lucas, who described him as someone who was polite but didn't say much to grownups.

Lisa Lucas is a few doors down from Bryer Schmegelsky's grandmother, where he often lived. Her son used to play with Schmegelsky as kids, before they grew distant in recent years. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Lucas said her son told her he and their friends had stopped hanging out with Schmegelsky after he began to make people feel uncomfortable.

"The comments that he would make — and how much he was into video games and a little bit more the violent side of the video games," said Lucas.

"Rylan said he seemed to take it very seriously ... like when they were playing video games, 'could you imagine if this was real?' kind of a thing. So he'd get a little too excited about it."

As the search for the two fugitives continues in a remote area near Gillam in northern Manitoba, Lucas said she hopes there's no more violence.

"I just want them to find them and get this thing figured out," she said.

"It shocks me, you know? I just can't imagine those kids that young deciding to do this," said Lucas. "I just wish we could have some answers."


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About the Author

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at cbc.ca/bc.

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